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Suggested Answers to Discussion Questions for
Learning Guide to THE GLASS MENAGERIE


Discussion Questions:

1.   See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

2.   Did Tom love his mother? What does the fact that this is a "memory play" have to do with how Amanda Wingfield is presented? Suggested Response: Tom would have us believe that his mother drove him away from the family, but he obviously loved her. There are several scenes which show their affection for each other. Moreover, Tom supported the family for a long time working at a job he hated and postponing what he really wanted to do. He also risked his best friendship at the warehouse to bring Jim, the "Gentleman Caller", to dinner. This is a memory play and it is through Tom's memory that we see everything. The Amanda Wingfield that we see is the mother that Tom wants to see. His memory exaggerates her controlling nature and the difficulty of living with her to justify his actions in leaving. Most sons in Tom's position would have felt their mother to be controlling and difficult to live with whether she was or not.

3.   Which character made you feel the most uncomfortable? Why did you feel uncomfortable and why did the playwright make the character like that? Suggested Response: The most likely suspects are Amanda and Laura. Amanda wouldn't stop talking and was interfering and controlling. These qualities dramatize the fact that living in the household was intolerable for Tom. Even if the mother had been very reasonable and as nice as a person could be, Tom would have felt that she was unreasonably difficult to live with because he needed to get away and live out his own life. To make us see the figure of the mother in the way that she made Tom feel, the playwright would necessarily exaggerate her controlling, clingy, interfering qualities. (Some teenagers find that their parents make their lives intolerable. Later in life they realize that it was the situation of dependence and not being able to control their own lives that made their parents only appear to be unreasonable.) Tom would have felt smothered and unhappy at home no matter what his mother was like. For Laura: If Tom could have helped Laura, there would have been a reason for him to stay home but there was nothing he could do. Tennessee Williams' real life sister had schizophrenia and, at the time, there was little that could be done to help people afflicted by that disease.

4.   Assume that Tom's mother wasn't controlling but was the nicest person you could imagine. Would Tom have eventually left home and joined the Merchant Marine? What effect would it have had on Tom if his mother had not been made to appear to be controlling? Suggested Response: Tom left home to live a fulfilled life of adventure in the Merchant Marine. Amanda had very little to do with it, except to delay it. Her allegedly controlling nature is used as a dramatic device to show us how she made Tom feel. The closer the bonds between parent and child, the more difficult it is for the child to leave. Young adults who have to leave home to fulfill their own destiny will often exaggerate the difficulties caused by their parents to justify the break they are going to make. If his mother was the nicest person in the world, it would have made it more difficult for Tom to justify leaving.

5.   Who is the strongest character in the play? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer but our vote goes to Amanda, the mother. She is always trying to help her daughter and we get the sense that she will help and support Laura until her dying day, hoping against hope, that one of her errant men will come back and save the family.

6.   Many people see this play as the playwright justifying his own actions in leaving his family and at the same time apologizing for what he had done. Do you agree with this? Defend your position. Suggested Response: Like many difficult decisions in life, Tom's decision to leave home and join the Merchant Marine was not entirely satisfactory. He knows that he needed to do it. He also knows that he left his mother and sister to fend for themselves. He feels very guilty about it, especially about leaving his sister. This play explains why he had to leave but it acknowledges his regret and therefore it is also an apology.

7.   Amanda Wingfield says that she is bewildered by life. What does she mean by this? Suggested Response: She's not quite sure how a person who has such great prospects as a young girl ended up in this situation. To hear her tell it, she was a popular belle in Jackson and had every prospect for a good marriage. But she made a bad choice and her husband left her. She now lives in a small rented house in St. Louis and it is up to her young son to support the family.

8.   Why does Tom go to the movies every night? Suggested Response: He goes to the movies to escape reality. In other words, he goes to the movies to get away from a situation which he knows is not good for him and in which he is unhappy.

9.   Define a "memory play" and describe the advantages it provides to a playwright. Suggested Response: In a "memory play", the story is told from the memory of a narrator or one of the characters. The advantage for a playwright is that the story does not have to be told in a linear fashion and the narrator's perceptions and misperceptions -- his coloring of events -- can be used by the playwright to convey the message of the play. (An example of the narrator's memory coloring events is the exaggeration of the controlling nature of the mother to explain why Tom had to leave.) Using memory as an organizing factor in the play gives the playwright leeway to explore his story. In memory, events are often mixed up, exaggerated, symbolic, or melodramatic. The audience must sort out whether the presentation is true or whether it is only the memory of the narrator who, after all, was an actor in what transpired and may have his own axe to grind.

10.   Describe three themes in the film. Suggested Response: See Themes in the Helpful Background Section.

11.   Describe three symbols in the film and what they stand for. Suggested Response: See Symbols in the Helpful Background Section.

12.   The unicorn is broken when Jim gets Laura to dance with him. What is the significance of this event? Suggested Response: There are two good answers. One is that it foreshadows the fact that Jim is going to leave her. Another is that it means that the reality and hopefulness that Jim brings into Laura's life will collide with her fantasy world and destroy her.

13.   Who is the hero and who is the villain in this story? Suggested Response: There are no heroes or villains.

14.   Is there an antagonist and a protagonist? What are the contending forces in this play? Suggested Response: There is no protagonist and no antagonist as such. There is a force in Tom that is driving him away from the family toward his own life and independence. This is the force of Tom's desire to live a fulfilled life, and it is not evil. Tom's sense of responsibility to his family resists this force (or is the counter force). It is personified in Amanda who resists Tom's leaving but knows that ultimately resistance will be futile. For Tom's sake she doesn't mind him leaving. But she needs him to stay until she can find some way to take care of Laura. (Tom recognizes a sense of responsibility to do this.) Unfortunately, Laura is already beyond help, Amanda just doesn't know it yet. Whether Tom knows it or not, he can't wait.

15.   There are two events which foreshadow other events in the play. What are they? Suggested Response: The two occurrences of foreshadowing are when Tom breaks one of Laura's glass figures as he rushes out the door and when Jim breaks the unicorn as he dances with Laura.

16.   Does the fact that this play has autobiographical elements detract from it or make it stronger? Suggested Response: This is a matter of taste but we think the autobiographical nature of the play makes it more immediate and more poignant.

17.   Memory plays are said to be non-linear. What is non-linear about the presentation of this play? Suggested Response: The entire play is a series of flashbacks. When the play opens, Tom has already left home and is in some port city where his travels as a member of the Merchant Marine have taken him. Then the play shifts to a scene at home before he left. Later, the scene shifts back to Tom in the port city and then back to his memories of St. Louis. This happens several times throughout the play.

18.   At the end of the play Tom says, " I didn't go to the moon. I went much further for time is the longest distance between two places." What type of literary device is this statement? What does Tom mean? Suggested Response: This statement is a metaphor. (The comparison of two seemingly unrelated subjects.) While distance and time are both dimensions, one is not usually equated with the other. But, as this statement points out, there is an important relationship because if you distance yourself in terms of location, you distance yourself in terms of time as well. While you can go back to the location, you cannot return to the time, you cannot undo what you have done. In this way, time is the longest distance.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:

FAMILIES IN CRISIS - MOTHER/SON - MOTHER/DAUGHTER

See the Quick Discussion Question and Questions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 & 14 above.

DISABILITIES

1.   What advice did Jim give Laura about her disability? Do you think it was good advice? Who gave her similar advice? Suggested Response: He told her to ignore it and go on with her life and to give people the benefit of the doubt. It was good advice. Her mother gave her similar advice, telling her to find something to excel in and not to dwell on her disability.

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing.

RESPONSIBILITY

(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


See the Quick Discussion Question and Question #6 above.

1.   What does this play show us about the limits of a child's responsibility to his or her family? Suggested Response: This is another way of asking the Quick Discussion Question. There is no one correct answer. There will be differing opinions on this issue. There are obligations that children have to their families but there are limits, as well. A good answer will acknowledge that the primary responsibility of any human being is to live a fulfilled life.

2.   Would your answer to the Quick Discussion Question change if there was some way that Tom could have helped Laura had he stayed in St. Louis? Suggested Response: This is a much closer question. There is no one correct answer to it.


Last updated December 16, 2007.

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