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Tennessee Williams

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In this essay will be looking at the way Tennessee Williams demonstrates the main character Amanda, Tom and Laura over the introductory scenes. I will look at the language he uses in the stage directions and I will also look at the characters language and movements. In addition, looking deeper into the characters and really understanding them will be important to gain a thorough perceptive of each person.

Originally I glanced at the production notes and came across the ‘The Characters’ page that provides initial ideas and thoughts towards the individuals. This short page informs us about Amanda and gives us the impression that she lives in the past and is a small, confused lady. It tells us “there is much to admire about Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at’. This tells us that there is a lot of emotion built around her and we also grasp that she can be quite foolish and cruel.

Laura is next to be described and this is the first time we are advised that Laura is ‘crippled’. We get an understanding of Laura’s characteristics from this brief collection of lines. She is portrayed to be very different from her mother, as she does live in reality. “Laura’s separation increases till she is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf” this gives evidence which makes us believe the shelf is symbolism for home. The overall idea giving us the impression she is too weak of a person to leave home and her mother too.

Tom is the final one of the main three characters; this small overview empressing his characteristics reveals to us that he is not only Amanda’s son but also the narrator of the play. We come under the impression that Tom is a poet but there is some confusion as to why he is working in a warehouse. There is not a great deal here about Tom apart from a brief relation to the idea of escaping “but to escape he has to act without pity”.

I will now continue by answering the question as thoroughly as possible. In order to give a full analysis I will approach this essay scene by scene making references to all the key parts.


This scene starts with a large passage of narrator’s comments (and an insight into Tom’s past). The first lines of actual speech from Tom are key to defining his character. “Here I am with tricks in my pocket I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusions that have the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” These lines seem to be very poetic. We know he wishes to pursue being a poet however he is living in the times of the great depression so he is forced to except work no matter what it consists of.

In Tom’s speech Tennessee Williams tells us a great deal. Tom’s comments about his past informs the reader of a “fifth character in the play who doesn’t appear except in this larger-than-life-size photograph”. This character that he speaks of is his father which lets us know that his father has deserted the family and ‘escaped’. The life-size picture also gives us the impression that Amanda is unable to let go of her ex-husband which strengthens our thoughts that she struggles to let go of the past. In the picture their father is also smiling, this plays on the idea that he will be smiling forever because he was able to escape.

Although what Tom is saying could be true, it is from his memory so there for it will be distorted the more it is told. At times we do see some signs of realism however Williams is saying “the scene is not real because it is in memory”.

At dinner, Amanda seems to be taking particular interest in the way that Tom is eating his food and after harassing for a length of time Tom could take no more and decided to leave the table for a smoke. This tells us a number of things about Amanda. It informs us firstly of what sort of lady Amanda is – a controlling, overbearing mother who is trying to control her son and make him behave in her way. Even when Tom does go for a cigarette Amanda tries to give him more of her advice. “You smoke too much” is another example of Amanda still trying to treat him like a child and also I got the impression she may be trying to do this in order to make him live his life as she would want, instead of in his own way.

“Resume to your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentleman callers!” which not only shows us that Amanda is adamant on Laura finding herself a man but she also calls her “sister” which gives us the impression Amanda sees herself as an equal instead of a mother which may explain why she doesn’t care about exploiting her daughter to men so easily. Parents usually try and protect their children.

In the following few lines Amanda prepares to tell as story to the family, stories are generally from the past. Tom seems reluctant to let her continue and shows impatience. Again Laura seems to be the calmest of the three and notifies Tom to let her continue “Yes. But let her tell it….She loves to tell it”.

Amanda then continues with the story, which seems to be unbelievable and she seems to be in her own little world. “One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain – your mother received – seventeen! -gentleman callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t chairs enough to accommodate them all” which seems to be a bit over the top. Also it seems like she is trying to impress her daughter, but this doesn’t seem to be what Laura is interested in. Also this doesn’t really seem like the correct way to introduce ones daughter into the world of men either.

In this scene notice Amanda dominating conversations, talking about the past and attention seeking. Another time that we see examples of all of these is when the gentleman callers do arrive. Amanda also concentrates on showing off her own qualities even if they are non-existent and she demonstrates this as she continues with the gentleman caller’s story.

“They knew how to entertain their gentleman callers. It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and a graceful figure – although I wasn’t slighted in either respect. She also needed to have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occasions”

During the story it seemed as if Tom and Laura already had their questions lined up. The questions were short and snappy as if the pair had perfected them, like a formula, in order to get the story completed in minimum time. Throughout the tale Amanda’s language suggests another time or place primarily the past.

During Amanda’s story we pick up the fact that all of her previous men had died in horrific circumstances such a drowning or being shot. This is ironic as usually all great love stories end in tragedy. The tragedy in this case is that out of all the men, she picked their father, but he left her.

“[TOM throws down his paper and jumps up with a groan.]” I think this act by Tom is a way of him showing how he disapproves of his sister being exposed to these gentleman callers by his mother, when mothers should be protecting their children. I additionally see this as a way of him presenting his annoyance towards his mother’s obsession with men.

Amanda asks Laura how many men she expects but Laura concentrates on reality and says “I don’t believe we’re going to receive any, Mother”. This comment shocks Amanda ad Laura uses ridiculous excuses and Amanda tries to laugh of the comments. She is obsessed with her daughter finding a man, but whenever the subject of men pops up it is clear Laura is uncomfortable and nervous.

Laura then says exactly what she knows “Mother’s afraid I’m going to be an old maid” this is another technique by Tennessee Williams of portraying Laura’s characteristics. This shows Laura living in reality once more, but also reinforces our idea that she knows exactly what mother doesn’t want of her – to be am old maid.


Laura’s sensitivity is shown here and we also see her polishing her glass collection. The opening speech in scene two from Laura illustrates her as nervous as her other approaches her. Then we onserve a little anger and forcefulness from Amanda as se barks “Deception? Deception?” It seems like Laura would rather deceive and lie to her mother than disappoint her.

Amanda is very melodramatic and seeks attention constantly. Tennessee Williams displays this well throughout the play, more so than when Amanda says “I did not have the strength – to go to the D.A.R”. This seems over dramatised by Amanda and as a reader I feel she is acting in this way in order to claim extra attention.

Amanda then treats her like a naughty child. She asks clich� questions that all parents ask when they disapprove ” Why? Why? How old are you, Laura?”; “I thought you were an adult; it seems I was mistaken”.

Following this we see that Amanda believes the case of Laura getting a man is a joint problem rather than something Laura must sort out alone. “What are wegoing to do, what is going to become ofus, what is the future?” Here Amanda uses a lot of collective pronouns to include herself into the situation. Words like ‘we’ and ‘us’ give the impression that maybe Amanda gives Laura everything because she is trying to use her to relive her life once more.

Tennessee Williams shows music as Laura’s means of escaping her mother. Here as her mother continues talking about the fifty dollars tuition “Laura draws a long breath and gets awkwardly to her feet. She crosses to the victrola and winds it up”. The victrola is an old fashion music player. Laura seems to turn to music often in times of distress.

We then notice Amanda becoming aggressive and see her full with ager as she talks to Laura. Amanda has been paying tuition fees for Laura however Laura has not been attending. Laura claims to have gone walking but her mother believes this to be a lie. The fact she says walking is ironic because Laura has a disability (one of her legs is shorter than the other). This shows that Laura will even suffer having to walk in order to try and escape from her mother’s world of men and marriage.

“Walking? Walking? In winter? Deliberately courting pneumonia in that light coat? Where did you walk to, Laura?”

We then see Amanda in a forceful and insensitive manner once more as she really tries to get the idea of men into Laura’s head. “I have seensuch pitiful cases”; “Barely toleratedspinsters” These words emphasise Amanda’s feelings upon this subject and are powerful words which have an impressionable impact on Laura.

“Stuck away in some little mousetrap of a room – encouraged by one in-law to visit another – little birdlike women without any nest – eating the crust of humility all their life!” This passage is quite dynamic and compelling, with powerful descriptions. “birdlike women” portrays petit, feeble women and “eating the crust” is like symbolism for the dry, hard, left over. Amanda is trying to show her daughter that if she doesn’t act now, only the worst pick of men will remain.

I think what Amanda is trying to do is find her daughter a ‘gentleman caller’ who will provide for her. Laura has failed at being successful so her mother believes the answer is to find a man who will provide for her.

At the end of scene we again see Laura being associated with music. In this case it’s ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ which is a musical that the boy she once liked was part of. Amanda is not impressed by this at all as she believes it not to be very mascalin.

We also see that Laura does not have a very good idea about men. She liked a boy “once” just once! which was years in the past. Also, he didn’t he know her name. He used to name her after her disability, which even that he didn’t get correct. She once told him she had “Pleurosis”. Since then he had mistaken that for “Blue Roses”. Not only is that not her name but also roses are seen as the power of love. However, in this case they are blue, which is seen as cold. This love has been portrayed as a tragedy from the beginning by Tennessee Williams

We then get another grasp of Amanda’s view of women. She is adamant that women need men and she then goes on to call Laura “sister” again, ad we saw earlier.

“Girls that aren’t cut out for business careers usually wind up married to some nice man….Sister, that’s what you’ll do!”


Scene three starts with Tom informing us that Amanda is more and more determined to find Laura a Gentleman Caller. Tom states “Mother was a woman of action as well as words. She began to take logical steps in the planned direction” which does sound very much like Amanda and is further evidence to support our ideas about her being obsessed.

Tom and Amanda begin to argue a short way into Scene 3. We see Tom standing up to his mother, Amanda. He really tries to ‘hit home’ reality and at the same time informs the reader of a few things. Tom reveals that it is in fact he, that pays the rent on the house. This suprises us, as it is Amanda that ‘rules the roost’.

“House, house! Who pays rent on it, who makes a slave of himself to -”

Tom follows by admitting that he is stuck in a life that he does not want. This is quite shocking for the reader as it probably is for Amanda. This is the first time that Tom has demonstrated that he is able to stand up for himself.

“What do you think I’m at? Aren’t I supposed to have any patience to reach the end of, Mother? I know, I know. It seems unimportant to you, what I’m doing – what I want to do – having a little difference between them! You don’t think that -”

Tom continues further but explaining just how much he dreads his current job. As readers we already know his feelings but it seems his mother does not. The following comment from Tom describing how he feels to his mothers is quite drastic and sums up his thoughts pretty well.

“I’d rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out my brains – than go back mornings!”

Tom completely loses his teather with Amanda at this point and he ruins her by explaining that he would decieve her and reject all of her values by leaving home. “As far as the transportation system reaches” is where Tom says he will go. This is obviously what Tenessee Williams is trying to illustrate in the production notes – “but to escape from the trap he has to act without pity”.

Also in Tom’s speech Tennessee Williams displays his fustration, agression and anger in the sentence structure. The sentences are short and snappy with frequent breaks of composure. “Crouching toward her, overtowering her tiny figure. She backs away, gasping”. This is another demonstration of his agression and violence at this money in time. It also strengthens his speech because if there was no passion or feeling in it then it would not be very believable.

Then to get his mother off his back, and realising it will stall her, he makes up a horrific lie about where he goes. He tells her “I’ve joined the Hogan gang, I’m a hired assassin, I carry a tommy-gun in a violin case! I run a string of cat-houses on the Valley! They call me Killer, Killer Wingfield”

Tom finishes this passage of speech with the most devostating and hurtful comment of them all. Directly aimed at his mother he says “You ugly – babbling old – witch”. This comment stuns her so much that she misses the following happening. The stage directions then describe his movemets. These turn out to be a very key part of the play, a particular accident happens which has a large affect in a number of ways.

“With an outraged groan he tears the coat off again, splitting the sholders off it, and hurls it across the room. It strikes against the shelf of Laura’s glass collection, there is a tinkle of shattering glass. Laura cries out as if wounded”. This not only is devestating because the glass collection has been destroyed but also because he has shattered Laura’s escapism. Tom realises what he had done, but he is unable to take this back.”On his knees to collect the fallen glass, glancing at Laura”.

We feel some emotion towards Laura, however, we realise that Ton did this accidently. This is a key part, we see Laura mentally and physically shattered and Amanda verbally. Both women are hurt by the man that they love so dearly. However, both are helpless.

Tom eventually leaves, but it seems that he will continue to be there with them emotionally.

In all, from the first three scenes we get a good grasp of each character. Tennessee Williams manages to portray each character well and we are given a good insight to the individuals.

Amanda is portrayed to be a very controlling mother, although she does seem only to want the best for her two children. Amanda does not seem to understand her children very well and there seems to be no relationships. I have been given the impression tht the family have been unable to build relationships due to Amanda taking no interest. The childrens mother seems to be more interested in herself and in her own stories that she is oblivious to what Tom and Laura truly want. We come under the understanding that Amanda finds it hard to let go of the past and although she shows a distinct interest in men, we believe she also can’t let go of her ex-husband. Amanda dominates the family conversationand usually manages to turn the subject to Laura finding herself a man. The idea of Laura getting a gentleman caller has become an obsession of Amanda’s so much so we are under the impression Amanda is trying to live her life again through her daughter.

Laura is a very different character from her mother. Laura does bot have much of an interest in men and is the character which lives in reality most. We have known from the very beginning that Laura is disabled but as the play had progressed we have come to understand Laura more and more. We now have realised just how fragile she is and aain chracteristic of hers is that Laura is very nervous and shy. We also have come to realise that she finds the topic of men very uncomfortable to talk about. Lastly we know that Laura likes her music which is another means of escaping on top of her glass collection. The music enables her to escape moments off distress and may sometimes drown out her mother.

Tom is the final one of the three main characters. We feel as though Tom is trapped in his mothers world and we get the impression he does want to leave. Also Tom has a job in a factory and it is clear from these three scenes that he gets no enjoyment from this. Tom’s true passion is clearly poetry and we get a clearer understanding of this from his speech which is portrayed to be very poetic. Tom does want to perdue being a poet but he knows it is not realistic, which is why he has settled for a warehouse job. Finally we see that Tom, like his sister, has ameans of escape. In this case the movies are his escapism.

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