Tennessee Williams was known to draw heavily on his own life and family experiences in his works, and his breakout play, The Glass Menagerie. The work highlights many of the tumultuous and labored decisions he himself felt as a young man. The play delves into family dynamics that many can sympathize with, including obligations that sometimes keep us from following our dreams. In addition, it also explores the real pressures of societal expectations, especially on young women during the earlier part of the 20th century. Some of these expectations may seem very foreign to students today. The play also examines the themes of the power of memory, and dreams and expectations in life, as told through Tom’s narration which is riddled with guilt.
Tennessee Williams, like many authors and playwrights, drew upon his own life experiences in order to create the characters and situations found in many of his works. In The Glass Menagerie, there are many instances where Tom and Williams’ lives seem to mirror each other. Student will be able to pick up on these similarities with some research on Williams’ life beforehand. Have students research Tennessee Williams, his family, and his early childhood at the following resources. As students read, have them compare Tom, Laura, and Amanda to the real people and situations that occurred in William’s life. When they are done, have students discuss or write about why some authors choose to use their own lives when they are writing works of fiction. What might be some of the benefits and the pitfalls to using real people and situations in a work of fiction?
Likely, many students will not understand the importance of a “gentleman caller”, especially to Southern culture in the early 20th century. A gentleman caller, or a caller, was a young man who sought to find out the availability of a young woman for a date. Often, he would be asked by an older family member to come and meet the girl; other times, he would meet her and then “call on her” at her family home. The gentleman caller is less a boyfriend than just a date, and sometimes a young girl had many callers to choose from, as Amanda claims she did in the play. This would sometimes result in a competition between the young men, who would jockey to win the affections of the young woman. If her family also approved of him, after a courtship (term of exclusive dating), the young man would eventually propose marriage.