The Glass Menagerie Scene 1 Full Summary {Step by Step Guide}

The Glass Menagerie Scene 1 Full Summary {Step by Step Guide}

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The Glass Menagerie Scene 1 Full Summary

Tennessee Williams is the author of The Glass Menagerie. His real first name is Thomas or Tom. The author of a play is called a playwright. Wright means a worker, especially a creative worker.

The play is an unusual play because Tom Wingfield, the narrator, tells his memories and sometimes plays himself (acting out past events) on stage.

The play has special effects, poetic imagery, and symbolism. Also, it has events that are like those in the playwright’s own life.

Note: A glass menagerie is a collection of animals made from glass (an easily broken substance).

To understand the play, people need to give attention to the author’s title of the play, his stage descriptions and directions, his use of music, his use of a special screen on which words and images appear, his symbols, and his characters’ words and actions.

Williams uses all of these to develop his themes (his lessons). He teaches his audience that people’s memories are different from reality, that people (especially those in the lower and middle classes) cannot truly escape from the reality of their lives, and that sometimes people can only make their dreams come true if they do not help others.

When audience members enter the theater and look at the stage, they see a curtain. When the curtain rises, they see the back of a tenement wall-the back wall of an old, run-down apartment.

The only entrance to the St. Louis apartment is through the alley fire escape because, says Williams, apartment buildings are symbols for “the.. fires of human desperation.”

Williams uses the fire escapes developing his theme that people who are not wealthy are trapped and have few chances to escape the way they live.

Williams also develops his theme that memory does not accurately show reality. In his stage directions, he writes, “The scene is memory and is therefore non-realistic.

Memory takes a lot of poetic licenses. It omits [leave out] some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated [is located] predominantly in the heart. The interior [of the stage] is therefore rather dim and poetic”

The play begins when Tom Wingfield, the narrator and also the main character, walks up onto and across the stage.

Notes: Tom Wingfield is wearing the uniform of a merchant sailor (someone who works on a ship that transports products). During a war, merchant sailors help the navy carry fighters and supplies.

Also, note Tom’s last name – Wingfield. He wants to have symbolic wings, so he can be free like a bird. He wants the freedom to reach his dreams. In the past, though, he was not free.

He was like a bird on the ground, in a field. Tom needed to care for his mother and sister, so he was not free to do what he wanted.

Tom stands on the fire escape and lights a cigarette.

Tom says he has tricks, but he is not a magician. He says he is “the opposite of a stage magician.’ Tom says magicians use tricks or illusions that make the impossible look real, but he is going to show the audience real truths about life through scenes that look like tricks or illusions.)

Tom tells the audience members that his first trick will be to take them back in time. They will go to the 1930s when the American middle class was “blind” because the Great Depression had caused the economy to fail.

Note: Americans were like blind people who were trying to do what they could not do because their eyes could not see.

American workers were trying to find a way to get more money, but the economy was so bad that all except the very rich had no hope.

Tom says in Spain, things were even worse than in America. There were violent protests by workers in American cities: Cleveland, Chicago, and Saint Louis, but in Spain, there was a civil war.

Many innocent people were killed on April 27, 1937, in the city of Guernica when the Nazis bombed the rebel city at the request of Spain’s leader. Tom says, “This is the social background of the play” (Music plays.)

Tom tells the audience that the play is a work of memory and cannot be completely realistic. The lighting will not be bright (because memory is unclear).

Tom says there will be music because memory seems to have music with it. Tom says that is why there is a “fiddle in the wings” (behind the side curtains).

Tom describes the five characters in the play: himself, as both the narrator and a character; Amanda, his mother; Laura, his sister; a gentleman caller (a visitor whom Tom does not name who will appear later in the play);

And Tom and Laura’s father who had left them long ago. (Tom says the audience will never see Tom’s father except in a photograph over the mantel.)

Tom says the gentleman caller” is the most realistic character in the play” Tom says the gentleman is an “emissary” (a messenger) from “a world of reality” a world that Tom and his family were not a part of.

Tom explains that he is a poet who likes symbols and his gentleman caller is a character who is a symbol of the “expected something that we live for” (something good that we hope will happen in the future to make our lives happier).

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Note: By saying he and his family were not a part of reality, Tom is saying that he and his family were dreamers.

Tom thinks about his father and tells the audience that his father had worked for the telephone company before he had left town.

Tom makes a joke, saying that his father was like the phone company because the company had provided long-distance phone service and Tom’s father “fell in love with long distances.”

(Tom’s father left town and his family) Tom and his sister last heard from their father years ago when he had sent a postcard from Mazatlan, Mexico. There were only two words on the card: “Hello-Good-bye!” and no address.

Tom ends his introduction by saying, “I think the rest of the play will explain itself.” The lights in front of the curtain that looks like the back wall of an apartment building are turned low and the lights behind the curtain are turned up.

The audience now can see through the back wall and into the living room. Through the second set of curtains, audience members can see a dining room at the back of the stage.

The way the stage is organized shows the audience that the events in the play come from Tom’s memories. The staging shows that memories can be cloudy and uncertain.

The audience now hears the voice of Tom’s mother (although they cannot hear what she is saying), and they see French words light upon a screen (a screen that is seen only when it is lit up).

The words are “Où sont les neiges?” These words, translated into English, mean “Where are the snows?” The words come from the famous poem “Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis” (Ballad of the Ladies of Former Times) written by François Villon in the 1400s.

The complete question the French poet asks, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” translates into English as Où sont “But where are the snows of yesteryear?” (“Yesteryear” means “long neiges? ago.)

Other lines in the poem ask where the famous, beautiful women of long ago have gone. The poet compares the lives of even famous people to snow.

People and snow both disappear. Everything has an end. People, even famous women who have been written about, die and are forgotten.

Tennessee Williams, the author of The Glass Menagerie, uses the words on his screen (and the see-through curtains which partly cover the
characters on the stage) to create a dream-like mood and to introduce the theme that all humans die.

The audience begins to think about the characters on the stage. What will happen to these women? Tom enters the living room, becoming his younger self. The curtain showing the back wall of the apartment rises.

Amanda, Tom’s mother, calls out, “Tom?” Tom says, “Yes, Mother’ and she tells him to come in so they can say grace (say a prayer thanking God for food).

Note: Tom is separated from his mother and sister by the see-through curtains and symbolically is separated from God’s grace and blessing.

Tom, his mother Amanda, and his sister Laura sit at the table. They all act as if they are eating, but no food or utensils are present. (This helps viewers think of the play as being like a memory, instead of being realistic.)

After Tom sits and begins eating, his mother tells him (a grown man, not a child) how to eat. She tells him not to use his fingers to push food onto his fork and to chew slowly.

Amanda says animals don’t need to chew their food a lot, but humans do. Amanda tells Tom to eat slowly, to chew his food, and to enjoy it.

Tom gets upset, pushes himself away from the table, and says he can’t enjoy his food when his mother continually tells him how to eat. He says he always eats quickly to get away from her “hawk-like” attention.

Note: Tennessee Williams uses the word “hawk-like” to show that Tom feels hunted by his mother. Tom feels like an animal being hunted by a hawk.

He feels weak and trapped. The talk about animals suggests some questions:

Are humans like other animals or unlike other animals? Because of our intelligence, can we behave better than other animals do?

Tom tells his mother that he is going to go have a cigarette. His mother says Tom smokes too much and she has not given him permission to leave the table, but he leaves anyway.

Laura starts to get up to get their dessert, a blancmange, but Amanda calls her “sister” and insists that she sit down to keep herself ready for gentlemen callers (visitors), even though Laura says she was not expecting any callers.

(By calling her daughter “sister” Amanda is showing that she wants to hold on to her youth.) Amanda says she will be the “darky” (what some people used to “Blancmange” is French and is spelled today as one call an African-American servant) and get the dessert. (Amanda’s use of the word.

(It means “white food”). It is a sweet dessert made of milk, cornstarch, sugar, gelatin, and vanilla. word “darky” shows the racist attitudes which many people had.)

After getting the blancmange and putting it on the table, Amanda begins to tell a story about a Sunday afternoon long ago when she had entertained seventeen gentlemen callers in her home in Blue Mountain, Mississippi.

Tom stands off to the side while he smokes. He doesn’t want to listen, but kind Laura asks him to listen again to the story he has heard many, many times before.

Laura tells Tom that their mother loves to tell the story. Tom listens, and he asks the mother questions he has asked before (pretending he doesn’t remember the story).

Amanda says that because she had seventeen callers at the same time, she had asked a black servant (whom she calls the now unacceptable word) to bring folding chairs from the nearby parish (church) house.

When Tom asks how Amanda entertained so many callers (visitors), she says she knew the “art of conversation” As Tom talks to his mother, an image of her as a young woman greeting her callers appears on the Screen on the wall.

Amanda talks to the empty chair as if Tom were seated there, but now Tom is the narrator pretending to read silently the words of the play.

(This is done to remind the audience that the play is about memories. The audience sees and hears Amanda talk about her memories, and the audience also sees that the scene comes from Tom’s written memories, from his point of view.)

Amanda says that she spoke to her gentleman callers about world events. She says her conversations were always polite, never rude. She says her visitors were “planters and sons of planters. (Planters are farmers who own large, successful properties known as plantations).

Tom moves his hand to ask the violinist to play. Music plays and a light shines on Amanda’s face as she continues to speak about how men had liked her when she was young.

(The author writes that her voice should be “rich and elegiac” (strong and full of sadness for her lost youth). The words “Où sont les neiges?” appear on the screen on the wall.

Audience members understand that the words asking where the snows have gone are a reminder that| Amanda’s youth has gone, gone like snow melting away.

By projecting the picture of Amanda as a young woman and following it with the question asking where the snows are, Williams (the author of the play) creates a very sad mood.

He is developing his theme that people cannot escape the reality of their lives. They cannot escape becoming older or dying. Williams teaches his audience that people’s lives are like snow melting away into nothingness.

Amanda thinks more about her youth and answers Tom’s questions, describing some of the young men who had visited her. They had been wealthy, the polite gentleman from plantations:

Champ Laughlin who later became vice-president of the Delta Planters Bank, Hadley Stevenson who later drowned in Moon Lake and left his widow (a woman whose husband is dead) one hundred and fifty thousand in government bonds, and the brothers, Wesley and Bates Cutrer.

Amanda says Bates fought with the “wild Wainwright boy” at the Moon Lake Casino where Bates was shot in the stomach and died in the ambulance on his way to Memphis.

He left his widow eight or ten thousand acres, but Amanda says Bates never loved his wife because he carried a picture of Amanda always, even on the night he died.

Note: Amanda uses much of her time discussing men who have died. This shows she lives much of her life in the past. By living in her memories, she and the men she knew remain young.

She is trying to escape reality by thinking about past good times and not about her difficult present, her aging, and her future.

Amanda does not answer Tom’s question, but she says that Fitzhugh went North and became known as the “Wolf of Wall Street.” She says Fitzhugh had “the Midas touch, whatever he touched turned to gold.”

Notes: A wolf is a powerful animal with a strong body and sharp teeth. It can attack other animals and kill them. Wall Street is a street in New York City.

It is where U.S. businesses make or lose millions of dollars on Wall Street. Midas is the name of a king in an old Greek story. Everything Midas touched turned into gold.

By saving that Fitzhugh was the “Wolf Of Wall Street” who had the “Midas touch”, Amanda is Saying that Fitzhugh made a lot of money.

Amanda says, “I could have been Mrs. Duncan J. Fitzhugh…But-I picked your father!” Laura stands up and says that she will “clear the table” (take the dishes from the table so they can be washed).

Amanda says she will clear the table. She tells Laura to go to the other room to study her typewriter chart or to practice shorthand. (Shorthand is a very fast way to write by using simple lines to represent letters and words.)

Amanda says Laura needs to stay “fresh and pretty” for gentleman callers. Amanda asks how many callers will be coming. Tom groans and Laura says she doesn’t think any gentlemen will come. Amanda says, “What? No one – not one? You must be joking!”

Notes: Directions in the text of the play say that Laura goes through the curtains where a light shines on her face and soft music is played. Audience members may notice that Laura wears a brace on one leg.

The author’s notes say that a childhood illness has made one leg shorter than the other and that Laura’s disability separates her from others.

The author writes that Laura is like a piece of her own glass collection because she can be easily broken and should not be moved “from the shelf”

Amanda says it cannot be true that no gentleman caller will come to visit. She says there should be so many gentlemen coming that it would be like a flood or a tornado of callers coming.

Laura tells her mother that there is no flood or tornado (of men) coming. She says she is not popular like her mother was as a young woman in Blue Mountain.

Note: By using metaphors (using the comparisons of a lot of men to a flood of men or a tornado of men, the author of the play makes strong images.

These images help people see that Amanda does not have a realistic view of life.

Also, since humans cannot control floods and tornados, people who read or watch the play see that people have little control over their own lives.

Tom groans and Laura says, “Mother’s afraid I’m going to be an old maid [an old unmarried woman]”

Notes: Williams, the author, writes that as the scene ends, the lights are turned down and music plays. Williams writes that the music is “a single recurring tune.”

He says it is like distant “circus music” that shows both excitement and sadness.

He says it is like glass: beautiful but easily broken. Williams also writes that the music connects the narrator to the people and events in the story.

The music also shows that the play is emotional.

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