How to Teach The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie is an interesting, dynamic play that has many parallels with the author's own life. Accompanying this work with information about Tennessee Williams's life and the time period in which the play was written will foster interesting discussions about the themes of the play and the portrayal of Williams's family members in the characters.

Symbolism is a literary technique Williams frequently uses throughout the play. Identifying the major symbols and dissecting their meaning will help students understand the themes of the play. Students should understand the concept of memory and the elements that create the atmosphere of memory in the play. This will allow for an engaging debate about the reality of the play—because it is from Tom's mind, is this a realistic representation of what happened?


The play is a memory of how Tom remembers the days before he left his mother and sister. The action is set in 1937 in St. Louis where Tom works to support his meddling mother, Amanda, and cripplingly shy sister, Laura, years after his father abandoned them. Amanda tries to find a suitor for Laura, and Tom, pressured by his mother, invites a coworker, Jim, home for dinner. However, Jim's relationship with Laura does not go as hoped, and Amanda blames Tom.

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie


This classic American play about desperate family love and the unquenchable desire for freedom is as poignant and pertinent today as it was when Tennessee Williams wrote it.

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Objectives for Teaching The Glass Menagerie

  • Describe the tension that exists between Laura and Amanda.
  • Identify which of the three major characters is the protagonist, and present an argument to support that claim.
  • Demonstrate that all four characters live in a world that fluctuates between illusion and reality.
  • Identify and state the significance of the major symbols in the play.
  • Cite examples of the author's use of imagery and poetic language.
  • Discuss the rationale for the unconventional techniques of staging that Williams employs in the play.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Flashback
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Juxtaposition
  • Mood
  • Symbolism

The Glass Menagerie - Complete Teacher's Kit


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Themes and Motifs

  • Memory and the Past — According to Tom, the narrator, the play itself is a memory. This makes the action of the play dramatic, sentimental, and unrealistic because the action unfolds in Tom's mind. Memory is also important to Amanda and Laura. When Laura starts receiving gentleman callers, Amanda transforms into a younger version of herself when she was a Southern belle receiving her own callers. Laura likewise retreats to her past.
  • Abandonment — All the men in this play abandon Laura and Amanda. The Wingfields were abandoned by their father years before the memory which unfolds before us. This event has a traumatic effect on Amanda, creating her determination for Laura to marry. Tom, just like his father, eventually abandons his mother and sister.
  • Freedom and Confinement —  Throughout the story, we come to understand Tom's desire to escape, which is indicated by his frequent trips to the movies and smoke breaks. Yet, the fact that this play is memory suggests to the reader that he has not achieved his freedom, as he has not escaped the past.

Key Facts

  • Length: 105 pages
  • Publication Date: 1945
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10


  • New York Drama Critics' Circle Award
  • Sidney Howard Memorial Award
  • Donaldson Award

The Glass Menagerie - Teaching Unit

Downloadable PDF File / Reproducible

The Teaching Unit for The Glass Menagerie gives you a comprehensive academic framework that saves you hours of prep work. You can rely on this well-researched unit as a strong base for your lesson plan — it was written by one of our seasoned educators with your needs in mind.

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The play has been adapted into many films. The most notable is the CBS Playhouse TV movie The Glass Menagerie directed by Anthony Harvey. This 1973 adaptation won four Primetime Emmys including Best Supporting Actor and Actress of the Year.

Your students will love:

  • Williams's vivid set descriptions
  • Tom as the narrator of the play

Students may have problems with:

  • Discerning what is reality and what is illusion
  • Understanding the abstract meanings of the symbols

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The Glass Menagerie
Complete Teacher's Kit
AP Teaching Unit
Multiple Critical Perspectives
Response Journal

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