Teaching Character Analysis in The Glass Menagerie: Amanda Wingfield
What kind of character is The Glass Menagerie’s Amanda Wingfield? Students often have a hard time figuring out how they feel about Tennessee Williams’ faded Southern belle. Some really hate her and see her as a huge nag. Others feel sorry for her. Have students analyze quotes from the book that illustrate her relationships with her children. This will help them develop a comprehensive understanding of her character.
Pick out quotes from the text that you feel best illustrate Amanda’s relationship with her children. Once you have a list of several that feature Amanda speaking to Tom and Laura, have the students do the following:
- Break into small groups of three or four.
- Assign each group a quote where Amanda speaks to/about Tom and one where she speaks to/about Laura.
- Have each group prepare to answer the following questions: What motivates Amanda to say this? What does this quote tell you about Amanda’s relationship with her son/daughter? From this quote, do you think she truly understands her son/daughter? Why or why not?
- Let each group present their ideas to the class.
- After each group has presented, have a class discussion on the character of Amanda. What emotions does Williams want his audience to feel about her? Usually the comments will range from seeing her as an admirable character to seeing her as ridiculously old fashioned to seeing her as someone who is an object for sympathy due to her circumstances. Have the class decide which one is the most dominant in the play.
- Letting the students know that there are biographical elements to the play often adds a new dimension to the discussion. Williams used himself, his sister, and his mother as templates for the characters of Tom (Williams’ real name is Thomas), Laura, and Amanda. Have the students discuss what they can infer about Williams’ early family life from the action in the play and from how he presents his main characters. For an extra credit assignment, you could have them research Williams' family and report back to the class on the parallels they find between art and life.
Sample Quote and Discussion Points: Amanda to/about Tom
Scene 5:“You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it!”
- Here, is Amanda talking more about Tom or about herself? What does the past symbolize for her?
- What kind of future does she think is appropriate for Tom?
- Does Amanda know/understand what Tom wants his future to be?
- What do you think she is afraid that Tom will regret if he does not plan for it?
- Is Amanda being mean spirited here, or does she really have reason to fear for Tom’s future and is reacting as a caring mother?
Sample Quote and Discussion Points: Amanda to/about Laura
Scene 2: “Why you're not crippled, you just have a little defect — hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to make up for it — develop charm — and vivacity — and — charm!”
- Why does Amanda refer to Laura’s leg brace as a “little defect,” refusing to call her crippled? Why would Laura disagree with her mother’s assessment that it is “hardly noticeable”?
- Why does Amanda think Laura needs to develop charm and vivacity? What is she hoping will happen if Laura develops these traits?
- Does Amanda see Laura as she really is, or is she constantly trying to make her into someone else?
- What are Amanda’s hopes and dreams for Laura? Why are these dreams so important to her? How do they drive the actions Amanda takes?