This is a character analysis of Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Amanda Wingfield was a typical Southern belle brought up in the early 1900’s in a privileged family. She was beautiful and had 17 suitors all in all. She had the misfortune, however, of falling in love with a dreamer who worked in a telephone company, and eventually chased the long distance, and left her alone to raise their two children.
In the play, we find the Wingfields living in a depreciated apartment in St. Louis, during the Depression era. This is the current living condition of Amanda – so far from the world she grew up in, and a reality she enthusiastically tries ever so hard to escape from. This is the reason why she appears foolish, trying to live in the past filled with romanticism and abundance. Tennessee Williams described her as “a little woman of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place.”
That is how she carries herself anyway. But deep inside her, she recognizes the miserable state she and her children are in. This drives her to push her children to the end of their wits, which Tom, her second child, finds unbearable and used as an excuse to flee in the end, just like his father.
Endlessly, she would nag Tom to comb his hair, to save his money instead of buying one cigarette pack per day, to stop going to the movies, to attend night school, and even as far as how to chew his food saying, “honey, don’t push with your fingers. If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread. And chew – chew!” This drove Tom crazy.
Laura, her daughter, on the other hand, had to suffer constantly listening to her mother’s stories of courtship when she was young. This smothered Laura, and caused her to become even more introverted for fear of not being capable of meeting her mother’s expectations of her. The business school, which Amanda pushed Laura to finish, even caused her indigestion. As well, Amanda never understood the extreme timidity of her daughter, and was in constant denial of Laura being crippled, saying, “nonsense! Laura, I’ve told you never, never to use that word. Why, you’re not crippled, you just have a little defect,” which was not at all healthy for her daughter. She was fooling her children as well as herself in thinking that they had “natural endowments,” that will make them become whoever they want to be.
But Amanda had nothing but good intentions for her children, who she loves so dearly. It was because of how she was raised that she acts like this. All she wishes is to see her children live a secure and good life. Especially for Laura, she does not want her daughter to end up like her. She does not think for herself. When the idea of a gentleman caller going to their house occupied her, she did not mind embarrassing herself selling magazines, so she can raise money for the preparations. The audience of this play will surely agree that “there is much to admire in Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at.”
In the end, when Jim, the all too disappointing gentleman caller-to-be, left for good and never to come back, this was when the true Amanda came out. To Tom she screamed, “don’t think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who’s crippled and has no job!” After which, she approached the disheartened Laura “slow and graceful, almost dancelike as she comforts the daughter.”
In the end, “her silliness is gone and she has dignity and tragic beauty.”