This play is about Willy’s dreams and illusions. Choose two examples from the text. Quote them. Take them home. Comment on why you think each one is an unrealistic dream. Bring your ideas to class tomorrow to be shared.
Have students read and discuss the dreams they have chosen and the reasons they have given.
Follow along the record of the play while following the text.
Bring in articles about companies that treat their workers especially well or especially poorly. These can help generate class discussion about work and the work place.
Watch videotape of the Dustin Hoffman version of the play. This is aired from time to time on CBS.
The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Williams’ play is about isolation and illusions. The characters include the mother Amanda, the daughter Laura, 23, who has one leg shorter than the other, the son Tom, and the Gentleman Caller. The play is memory and Tom is the narrator.
Amanda is forever stuck in the southern world of cotillions and entertaining as many as seventeen gentlemen callers at one time. Even though the family now lives in St. Louis, Amanda has ambitions—some would call them illusions—for her two children. Laura is engrossed in a world of miniature glass animals. Her mother enrolled her in a business school, but Laura was so shy and frightened that she made just one appearance. After that she leaves home as if to go to school, but spends the day exploring cultural spots in the city.
Tom tries to be reality conscious. As a worker in a shoe factory, he does have contact with the outer world, but even he has his illusions. He is torn between his desire to escape his hated job in the factory, to escape his mother and the guilt over his sister, or to stay and face his responsibility. His love of the movies is a cue to us that he is a dreamer. He pays his dues in the merchant marine so that one day he can escape and travel the same way as his father, who long ago abandoned the family.
Pressed by his mother to bring home a young man to court his sister, Tom finally brings home Jim O’Connor, who attended high school with Laura and him. Jim was a star in many fields in high school and most likely to succeed. Now he has a job only slightly higher than Tom’s, but unlike Tom, he’s always trying to take courses to better himself. Jim is very attentive to Laura: he engages her in conversation and tells her she needs more self-confidence. He even teaches her to waltz, but while dancing they bump into the table on which favorite glass piece is sitting. It falls and its horn breaks off, but Laura is not upset and comments that a unicorn with a broken horn is less freakish.
When the gentleman caller leaves early announcing that he has to meet his fiancee’s train, the evening is a disaster as far as Amanda is concerned. In the end, Tom is finally able to announce that he intends to join the merchant marine.
Some discussion questions
1. Have you ever met or read about anyone as shy as Laura? What do you think makes people shy? Are they born that way? Can shyness be overcome? Does the play imply any reason for her shyness? What do you think will become of Laura now?
2. Do you believe in Amanda’s grandiose past?
3. What do you think she really wants for her children?
5. Can you think of other young people, real, in television, books, or movies who are torn between two possibilities?
6. Why do you think Jim dances with and kisses Laura when he has a fiancee?
7. Why do you think Laura gives Jim the broken unicorn to keep?
8. How do you know that the men at the factory think Tom is a dreamer?