Тенеси Уилямс е известно, че привлича сериозно собствения си живот и семеен опит в творчеството си, както и неговата проблясваща игра "Стъклената менажерия". Работата подчертава много от бурните и трудолюбиви решения, които самият той чувствал като млад мъж. Играта се впуска в семейната динамика, с която много хора могат да симпатизират, включително и задължения, които понякога ни пречат да следваме нашите мечти. Освен това тя изследва и реалния натиск на обществените очаквания, особено върху младите жени през по-ранната част на 20-ти век. Някои от тези очаквания днес изглеждат чужди на студентите. В пиесата също се разглеждат темите за силата на паметта, сънищата и очакванията в живота, както се разказва чрез разказът на Том, който е пълен с вина.
The play is narrated by Tom, who is remembering the events as a memory. It opens with Amanda Wingfield, a former Southern socialite, obsessing over the idea that her daughter, Laura, should be prepared at all times for a gentleman caller. While Amanda’s husband abandoned their family, she hopes for bright and successful futures for her two children. She is afraid that Tom will get stuck in his warehouse job, and Laura will become an old maid.
Laura is a very shy girl, with her social anxiety amplified by the slight limp she acquired after a childhood illness. Amanda discovers that Laura dropped out of her business classes because of her severe anxiety. Tom is tired of having to carry the family with his shoe warehouse job because he likes to write poetry and he thinks the world is moving on without him. He believes he is missing out on something. Amanda is determined to find the perfect gentleman caller for Laura.
After a disruptive fight between Tom and Amanda, Tom apologizes, which prompts Amanda to ask him to find a suitable man at his warehouse to bring home to meet Laura. After some resistance, Tom agrees. Laura previously confessed to her mother that there once was a boy named Jim that she liked in high school; however, that was six years ago now and he’s probably married. Tom eventually tells Amanda that he is bringing a friend home for Laura, a man named James O’Connor.
It turns out that James is the Jim Laura used to know, and she becomes paralyzed by fear during their dinner and has to be helped to the sofa. Tom confesses to Jim that he’s paid his dues in the Union of Merchant Seamen rather than the electricity bill that month, and he will be leaving soon. Jim and Laura spend some time together and he begins to bring her out of her shell, eventually dancing with her and then kissing her.
With that kiss, Jim realizes he’s gone too far because he’s already engaged to be married to a woman named Betty, whom he loves. He tries to let Laura down easily, but her quiet despair is palpable. She gives him the tiny glass unicorn he accidentally broke while dancing as a souvenir. Jim quickly makes an exit after hastily explaining his engagement to the also-disappointed Amanda.
Amanda turns on Tom, accusing him of making this evening a joke for his poor sister. She continues to yell at him as he flees the house. Tom, alone again, speaks to the audience about how he traveled to many different places in his life, but he is always reminded of his sister. He feels constantly pursued by the guilt of leaving her behind.