Tennessee Williams


I. Teaching/Learning Objectives for College-Level Students
In this first section, I will list some teaching/learning objectives
for college-level students studying Tennessee Williams. They are:
* To read and comprehend the plays written by Williams.

* To be able to explain quotes and/or passages from the plays.

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* To be able to tell about the life of Tennessee Williams.

* To have an understanding of the 20th century culture (ex. –
language, family life, etc.).

* To be able to read and respond to the plays by writing essays of
criticism.

* To be able to do through research on Williams.

* To learn how to enjoy the writings of Tennessee Williams.


II. Brief Overview of Tennessee William’s Career
Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in 1911. He
attended the “University
of Missouri in Columbia” (Bloom’s BioCritiques, 21). There he became the
“first freshman to win an honorable mention in the Dramatic Arts Club One-
Act Play Contest” (Bloom’s BioCritiques, 22). One of the poems he wrote
was published in his college yearbook in 1932.

In 1938, Williams “graduated from the University of Iowa” (Bloom’s
BioCritiques, 115) and in 1939, he received the “Rockefeller grant”
(Bloom’s BioCritiques, 115). In 1944, one of his most famous plays, The
Glass Menagerie, opens up in Chicago. Three years later, A Streetcar Named
Desire is debuted. Within the next ten years, Williams had written at
least ten other plays. In 1961, he won the “New York Critics’ Circle
Award” (Bloom’s BioCritiques, 116). He received that “National Arts Club
god medal for literature” (Bloom’s BioCritiques, 117) in 1975. Williams
received an “honorary degree from Harvard University” (Bloom’s
BioCritiques, 117) in 1982, a year before he died.

III. Analysis/Close Reading of The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie has four main characters. They are Amanda
Wingfield, Tom
Wingfield, Laura Wingfield, and Jim O’Connor. Amanda Wingfield is the
single mother in the play. Her husband had deserted the family years
before. Tom Wingfield is the son of Amanda. He works in a shoe warehouse
and is the main breadwinner of the family. Laura Wingfield is the daughter
of Amanda. She is slightly disabled and enjoys playing with her collection
of glass animals. Last, but not least, Jim O’Connor is the man who Laura
had liked in high school. He later shows up at their home as a gentleman
caller for Laura. There are many themes that the readers must take under
consideration. They are: escape, disappointment, dreams, hope, and
despair. This analysis comes from The Anthology of American Literature.

In Scene I, Tom is seen addressing the audience from the fire escape.

He tells the audience that this is a “memory play” (Williams, 1450). He
also tells them about the other characters in the play. Tom speaks about
his father who had left the family some time ago. He said that his father
was “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances” (Williams,
1450).

Tom goes into the dining room where Amanda and Laura are. Amanda,
being a nagging mother, is fussing at Tom about how he eats his food. This
starts a small argument between the two and Tom goes into the living room.

Laura gets up the “blanc mange” (Williams, 1451). Amanda tells her to sit
down because she wants her to be fresh for her gentlemen callers. Laura
tells her that she is not expecting any. Amanda then begins to tell her
story of how she had seventeen gentlemen callers in one day. Laura and Tom
patiently listen to the story once more. Amanda sends Laura into the
living room to practice her typing. She also tells Laura to “Stay fresh
and pretty – It’s almost time for our gentleman callers to start arriving”
(Williams, 1452). Laura is sure that she would not have any and she feels
that her mother was afraid that she was “going to be an old maid”
(Williams, 1452).

As Scene 2 opens up, Laura is seen playing with her glass animals. As
soon as she hears Amanda coming, she puts them away quickly and pretends to
study her typewriting homework. When Amanda comes in, Laura asks her how
everything was. Amanda accuses Laura of deceiving her, but Laura does not
know what she is referring to. She tells Laura that she had gone to
“Rublican’s Business College” (Williams, 1454) to check on Laura’s
progress. When she talked to the typing teacher, the teacher did not even
know who Laura was. Amanda complains about losing fifty dollars on tuition
and the thought of her dreams for Laura going downhill. She demands that
Laura tell her where she goes when she is not a school. Laura explains to
her that she takes walks in the park. She then tells Amanda that she had
gotten sick one day and could not go back. Amanda begins to wonder about
what happens to young girls who do not have a future career in mind. She
says, “I’ve seen such pitiful cases in the South – barely tolerated
spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or
brother’s wife” (Williams, 1455).

Amanda then asks Laura if she had ever liked a boy. Laura tells her
yes, a boy named Jim. She tells Amanda a little about Jim and how he used
to call her “Blue Roses” (Williams, 1455). Amanda all of a sudden says,
“Girls that aren’t cut out for business careers usually wind up married to
some nice man. Sister, that’s what you’ll do” (Williams, 1456). Laura
does not think so because she is crippled. Amanda does not like for Laura
to use the word “cripple” and says that all she needs to do is to “develop
charm” (Williams, 1456).

Scene 3 shows Tom on the fire escape talking about his mother’s plans
for Laura. He tells the audience that in order to raise some extra money,
she started trying to recruit subscribers for a magazine by telephone. The
screen image changes to a “glamor magazine” (Williams, 1456) as Amanda
enters the room. Amanda is having a phone conversation with a woman from
her D.A.R. group. She is trying to get her to renew her subscription to
the magazine. While she’s talking, the woman says that she smells
something burning in the kitchen and hangs up. The scene then dims out.

As the lights on stage appear again, the audience can hear a heated
argument between Amanda and Tom. Tom is angry because Amanda had returned
a library book without his permission. Amanda says, “I took that horrible
novel back to the library – yes! That hideous book by that insane Mr.

Lawrence” (Williams, 1457). Tom lashes back by saying that he is the one
who pays the rent on the house. Tom walks out into the dining room and
Amanda follows. Amanda tells him, “I am at the end of my patience”
(Williams, 1458). Tom tells he that he has too. Amanda tells him that she
thinks that he is ashamed of some of the things that he has been doing and
that is the reason for his behavior. She also thinks that he has been
lying about going to the movies every night. She says that he has no right
to jeopardize his job and their security. Tom tells her that he does not
like his job at the warehouse. The only reason that he stays is so he can
support the family. Amanda thinks that he is being selfish. Tom points
out to her that if he is being selfish, “I’d be where he is -GONE”
(Williams, 1458)! He says this while pointing at his father’s picture.

Tom attempts to leave saying that he is going to the movies when Amanda
grabs him by the arm. As he looks for his coat, he calls her an “ugly –
babbling old – witch” (Williams, 1459). Tom tries to put the coat on and
the shoulder rips. He throws it across the room and it hits Laura’s glass
collection. Laura begins to shriek and yells, “My glass! -menagerie”
(Williams, 1459). Amanda turns to Tom and says that she won’t speak to him
until he apologizes to Laura. He goes over to clean up the broken glass on
the floor. As looks at Laura as if he wanted to say something but he could
not speak. When Laura’s glass shattered, a piece of her was shattered too.

Scene 4 opens up with Tom returning home from the movies. He tells
her that he went to see a “big stage show” (Williams, 1460) starring
“Malvolio the Magician” (Williams, 1460). He explains to her how he had
changed water into wine and beer into whiskey. Tom says the “wonderfullest
trick of all” (Williams, 1460) was when he managed to escape from a nailed
coffin. He asks, “But who the hell ever got himself out of one (a coffin)
without ever removing a nail” (Williams, 1460)? Then, a “grinning
photograph” (Williams, 1460) of his father lights up. The scene fades.

Amanda sends Laura to wake Tom up since she is still not speaking to
him. Laura begs him to apologize, but he refuses. He says, “Her not
speaking – is that such a tragedy” (Williams, 1460)? Amanda keeps calling
Laura because she wants her to go to the store to get some butter. As
Laura leaves, she slips on the stairs and Tom and Amanda rush to see what
had happened. Laura says that she is okay. Amanda keeps talking about how
the landlord should shape up. Then she realizes that is was not speaking
to Tom.

Tom goes to the kitchen and has a cup of coffee. The hot coffee burns
his tongue and he gasps. Amanda turned to see if he was okay. Tom then
apologizes to his mother. She starts to cry saying, “My devotion has made
me a witch and so I make myself hateful to my children” (Williams, 1461).

She tells Tom how important he has been to her since her husband left. The
conversation then turns to Laura. Amanda tells him that she had seen Laura
crying in her room and she thinks that it is because Tom is unhappy. She
asks him why does he go to the movies so much. Tom tells her that he goes
because he likes adventure. Amanda says that most men find adventure at
their jobs. Tom says that he does not. He tells her that a “man is by
instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter” (Williams, 1463). Amanda does not
want to hear that nonsense, so Tom gets up to leave. Amanda won’t let him
leave because she is not finished talking about Laura yet.

Amanda says that she had found a letter from the Merchant Marines and
she knows that Tom
wants to go. She says that he can go only if he finds a husband for Laura.

She wants him to find someone at his job to bring home. Tom reluctantly
agrees to do so. Amanda is happy now.

In Scene 5, Amanda is asking Tom to comb his hair and for him not to
smoke so much. She
says that the money he sends on cigarettes could have been used to take a
“night-school course” (Williams, 1465). Amanda comes out onto the fire
escape with Tom. They both make wishes on the new moon. Amanda says that
she wished for, “success and happiness for my precious children” (Williams,
1466). Tom thought that she might have wished for a “gentleman caller”
(Williams, 1466). He tells her that he had found someone at his job for
Laura and that he was going to bring him home tomorrow. Amanda says that
she does not have enough time to prepare.

They go back inside so that Tom could tell her about the gentleman.

He tells her that his name is Jim O’Connor who is a “shipping clerk”
(Williams, 1468). Amanda asks whether or not he drinks because, “Old maids
are better off than wives of drunkards” (Williams, 1468). Tom tells her
that O’Connor does not even know about Laura yet, but Amanda is sure that
he will like her. Tom does not think so because Laura is crippled. Amanda
does not like for him to use that word.

Tom gets up to go to the movies and Amanda yells down the fire escape
after him that she still doesn’t believe he goes to the movies. She calls
to Laura to come make a wish on the moon. She asks what she should wish for
and Amanda, with tears, says, “Happiness and good fortune” (Williams,
1470).

Scene 6 opens up with Tom narrating to the audience. He says that he
had brought Jim home
the next night. He then goes on to tell about Jim’s achievements in high
school. As the curtains
rise, we see Amanda hemming Laura’s dress. Laura is nervous. Amanda
cannot understand why Laura is so antisocial. Amanda puts the final
touches to Laura’s appearance by stuffing her bra with two powder puffs.

Amanda then goes off to get dressed also.

Amanda comes back in the room wearing a “yellowed voile with a blue
silk sash” (Williams, 1472). She is also carrying a bouquet of flowers.

Amanda then starts to tell the story about the summer she met her husband.

Laura asks what Mr. O’Connor full name is and Amanda says, “Jim O’Connor”
(Williams, 1473). After hearing this, Laura almost faints. She says that
she will not come to the table if it is the Jim O’Connor she knew from
school. Amanda will not hear of it. She says that Laura has to let them
in because Jim had left his key.

Laura is sitting in the living room when she hears the guys coming up
the fire escape. Amanda tells her to open the door, but she just sits
there. Laura claims to be sick. After she lets them in, Laura immediately
leaves the room. Tom explains to Jim that Laura is “terribly shy”
(Williams, 1474).

Tom and Jim go on the fire escape to smoke and to talk about work.

Amanda calls them inside. Amanda’s dress and attitude surprise them. She
sends Tom to get Laura and Tom comes back saying that Laura is not feeling
well. Amanda insists that she comes and eats. Laura comes in and stumbles
over a chair. Amanda realizes that Laura may actually be sick. She tells
Tom to help Laura over to the sofa. The other three go back to eating
dinner. As Tom is praying, Amanda steals a “nervous glance at Jim”
(Williams, 1478). Laura is seen on the sofa with her hands over her mouth
trying to hold back a sob.

As the curtains rise for Scene 7, Laura is still seen lying on the
sofa. As soon as the others
finish eating dinner, the lights go out because the bill has not been paid.

Amanda lights a candle and goes to check the fuse box with Jim’s help.

She makes Tom help with the dishes. Jim goes to keep Laura company.

Laura is nervous talking to Jim, but Jim is comfortable. He asks her
to sit on the floor with him and she does. Jim tells her that he judges
her to be “an old-fashioned type of girl” (Williams, 1481). Laura asks him
whether or not he had kept up with his singing. Jim then realizes that he
had known her from highschool. She tells him that he used to call her
“Blue Roses” (Williams, 1481). He remembers that she was a loner and
always self-conscious because of her leg braces.

Laura then goes to get a highschool yearbook. The two begin to look
at pictures. Laura tells Jim that she went to three performances of The
Pirates of Penzance hoping that he would sign her program. She says that
she did not come up to him because he was always surrounded by a group of
people. Jim takes one of her programs and signs it saying, “My signature
isn’t worth very much right now. But some day – maybe it will increase in
value” (Williams, 1484)! They then talk about school and their future
dreams. Laura asks Jim about his highschool girlfriend and if they were
engaged or not. Jim says that they never were and that he never sees her.

Laura shows Jim her glass collection. She points out that her
favorite one is the unicorn. Jim
puts the unicorn back on the table and goes to the fire escape door. He
opens the door and hears waltz music coming from the “Paradise Dance Hall”
(Williams, 1486). He asks Laura if she would like to dance. She says that
she can’t dance. He convinces her to try and they start dancing a “clumsy
waltz” (Williams, 1487). As they are dancing, they bump into the table and
the unicorn falls on the floor and breaks. The horn is lost. Jim feels
bad because it was her favorite. Surprisingly, Laura is not too upset
about it. She says, “Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you
are” (Williams, 1487). Jim is impressed by her sense of humor. His voice
changes as he begins to tell her how different she is from other girls and
how pretty she is. He insists on kissing her and he does. After doing
this, he realizes that he has made a mistake. Jim explains to Laura that
he is dating someone else. He goes on to talk about how wonderful it is to
be in love and that this girl has turned his life around. Laura then gives
Jim the broken unicorn as a “souvenir” (Williams, 1490). This is a symbol
that Laura is heartbroken. Amanda comes into the room and Jim then tells
them that he and his girlfriend are getting married “the second Sunday in
June” (Williams, 1491). Amanda is surprised and wonders why Tom did not
tell them. Jim tells her that no one at his job knows yet. He then thanks
her for her hospitality and Laura for the souvenir and leaves.

Laura sits by the Victrola and winds it up. Amanda calls Jim in and
tells him, “What a
wonderful joke you played on us” (Williams, 1492)! Jim does not know what
she is talking
about. Amanda tells him that Jim is engaged. Tom says that he did not
know. He says, “the warehouse is where I work, not where I know things
about people” (Williams, 1492)! Amanda insists that he lives in a dream
world. Tom attempts to walk out saying that he is going to the movies.

Amanda accuses him of being selfish once more. He tells her, “The more you
shout about my selfishness to me the quicker I’ll go, and I won’t go to the
movies” (Williams, 1492)! She tells him to just go to the moon. Tom
“smashes his glass on the floor” (Williams, 1492) and storms out of the
house.

At the end of the play, Tom is seen narrating from the fire escape.

He says, “I didn’t go to the moon, I went much further – for time is the
longest distance between two places” (Williams, 1492). He explains that he
was fired from his job for “writing a poem on the lid of a shoe-box”
(Williams, 1492). He says that he followed in his father’s footsteps. He
says that he continues to think about Laura wherever he goes.

IV.William’s Style and Literary Mentors
The World Book Encyclopedia says that Williams is “an American
playwright whose dramas
Portray the loneliness and isolation of man. He has been criticized for
his use of violence and
sexual abnormality, but his dominant tone is one of tenderness and
compassion. The language of his plays is occasionally coarse n the
naturalistic tradition, but it is generally poetic” (261).

Tennessee Williams had many literary mentors. He enjoyed the works of
“Oscar Wilde” (Bloom’s BioCritiques, 82), “Percy Shelley” (Bloom’s
BioCritiques, 82), “John Keats” (Bloom’s BioCritiques, 82), Shakespeare and
others.

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