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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams-Book Notes
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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

SCENE FOUR

Slightly drunk, Tom returns to the apartment at five in the morning. Laura opens the door for him. Last night, Tom explains, he went to the movie theater. The stage show featured Malvolio the Magician. (In those days, when you went to the movies, you were offered a full range of entertainment. Movies were often accompanied by live performances.) Malvolio performed tricks of illusion that had the appearance of truth: turning water to wine, then to beer, then to whiskey. But the best trick was Malvolio's escape from a nailed up coffin. Tom says bitterly, "There is a trick that would come in handy for me-get me out of this two-by-four situation."

NOTE:

Tom's references to magic and illusions should call to mind the opening of Scene One. You have already observed several examples of deception and illusion in the characters' actions. Stay alert for more in the scenes ahead.

Tom's allusion to his trap-his "two-by-four situation"- reveals that escape is never far from his thoughts. Would it have startled you to learn that Tom had taken permanent leave from home last night after his blow-up with Amanda? He had a tailor-made opportunity to go, but here he is, back again. Why did he come back? What might it take to drive him off for good?


After you hear the six o'clock church bells, Amanda starts her day. Although she's still angry about last night, she unleashes a few "rise and shines" in Tom's direction, but she won't talk to her son. Laura, the peacemaker, tries without luck to get Tom to apologize to Amanda. What do you suppose prevents him from making up?

Soon Amanda sends Laura on an errand to the deli. Laura objects, however. She is afraid to face the scowling deli man when she asks for credit. But she goes, and then slips on the fire escape on her way out.

NOTE: ON SYMBOLISM

It may seem like a trivial incident, but Laura's stumble shouldn't be ignored. Why did the playwright have her stumble on the fire escape? Symbolically, it could suggest the perils of entering the real world.

Some readers object to the search for symbolic meaning in every action or word. Be assured, however, that symbolism in The Glass Menagerie is not accidental. Tennessee Williams stated at the outset that the play is full of symbols, but ultimately you're the one who must decide whether to take his statement at face value. You needn't seek symbols in every line of dialogue and each piece of stage business. But if you uncover symbolic treasures as you continue, studying the play may be that much richer an experience for you.

In this scene thus far you might consider the potential symbolism in Tom's rainbow-colored scarf, and the illumination of Mr. Wingfield's photograph. You'll soon be hearing the strains of "Ave Maria," perhaps reminding you that Amanda resembles a suffering madonna when she is deeply disappointed by her children.

As soon as Tom apologizes, you see the gradual return of the old Amanda. First she bemoans her fate and then plays the role of a hurt and troubled mother: "My devotion has made me a witch and so I make myself hateful to my children." What can Tom possibly say in reply, especially after he has just apologized?

Amanda doesn't give up easily. She wants to discuss Tom's drinking and moviegoing again, hoping that Tom will see the connection between his habits and his sister's future. Tom explains that because he's restless for adventure, he goes to the movies. Amanda asserts that most men find adventure in their careers. Of all people, though, Amanda knows how comforting a short flight into illusion can be. So she accepts, somewhat reluctantly, Tom's reasons for his nightly escape. Instead of trying futilely to restrain him, Amanda makes a deal with him. She will not hold him back if, in return, he provides a man for Laura.

Tom has been manipulated by Amanda, but he doesn't seem to mind. He probably views the deal as a small price to pay for freedom. As he goes off to work, he agrees to bring home a friend from the warehouse.

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