tragic characters in Tennessee Williams' Glass Menageries perhaps the most tragic is Amanda, for she has both expectations and little if any chance of seeing them fulfilled. She is afflicted with all the elements that Arthur Miller attributes to the hero of modern dramas, especially with regard to being at odds with her social environment. Her son Tom, though miserable, has expectations -- a future in the merchant marines and an opportunity to see the world, and he has the chance to fulfill those expectations. Laura her daughter on the other hand is absolutely lacking in expectations. Taking few chances besides the ones her mother puts upon her, she aspires for little, so whatever fall she may take won't be so bad. The world has dealt her a tough hand, but she has accepted this. For Laura the imaginary world of her glass menagerie is just fine.
Amanda is in many senses a true victim. Abandoned by her husband, and locked into life with a crippled daughter, she has no exit. Yet, she doesn't give up trying because like Laura cherishes her little glass animals, Amanda cherishes and nurtures her seed of hope. It's not that Amanda doesn't put forth a great effort or that she has a sense of entitlement that precludes her from having to try. She makes this clear in talking with Tom. "I know your ambitions do not lie in the warehouse, that like everybody in the whole wide world -- you've had to -- make sacrifices, but -- Tom -- Tom -- life's not easy, it calls for -- Spartan endurance!" (Part 2, Scene 4)
Amanda creates plans even if the plans are doomed from the start. She goes through with the meeting with Jim. The gentleman caller, because even though she has been told he's engaged, she elects not to hear anything that will dampen the possibilities. She chides her son Tom for not planning for the future. "You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it!" (Part 3, Scene 5, pg. 45) What she doesn't admit is that Tom is making plans, only they don't include her or Laura.
As Miller points out, the tragic hero chooses an image for him or herself creating an inherent disaster by the fact that his or her self-image is not in accord with the real world. Feelings of displacement and indignation then follow. Once a southern bell with seventeen gentleman callers, Amanda has now become the faded woman who can't even live out her life vicariously through her daughter. However, she maintains those airs of a society woman in both her mannerisms and her attitude, including a certain toughness of character that keeps her from getting ruffled no matter what the situation. This shows in her handling of rejection, which must happen more often than not, as she tries to sell magazines over the telephone.
Amanda's son, while serving as her economic salvation for several years is merely biding his time as he plans to exit from their lives and abandon them to darkness foreshadowed by the power outage -- as did the smiling father who is present only in the portrait. That Amanda keeps the portrait upon the wall seems a bit of an oddity. He is a reminder of her past mistake, but to pull him off the wall would be an admission of that mistake. She doesn't see that she may have driven him away with her incessant harping and high ideas, but sees his leaving as a flaw with his character rather than a mark against her own.
Perhaps she keeps the picture on the wall so that she has someone to blame other than herself, someone to turn her anger against instead of herself when things go awry. Better to look at the picture then look into a mirror and see that the image she has of herself is not the real one. There's never any expectation that the man in her life is going to return, any more than her son will return once he heads off to distant lands.
Nevertheless, hope is Amanda's drug and she takes it in large doses to ward off the impending disaster of the darkness in store for her and Laura. She calls to her daughter to come wish on the moon, because one just never knows.
Amanda is not without kindness. She is not the monster that her son thinks her to be, but a desperate woman who continually chatters to block out reality. If she were to stop for a minute, the truth of her situation might set in.
Amanda sticks to her philosophy; she believes wholeheartedly that one can make one's future with enough planning, enough attentiveness. She does not hold her daughter's affliction against her, nor does Amanda put Laura down through comparison to herself. She invests $50 in Laura's education, and when that doesn't pan out, she grabs hold of another plan, the search for a gentleman caller.
Amanda genuinely loves her daughter and while she slips into vying for the attention of the gentleman caller, she doesn't wish to take center stage. In fact, if she could instill her with the charm to overcome her handicap Amanda would. She expresses genuine worry for her daughter when she says,
I've seen such pitiful cases in the South -- barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister's husband or brother's wife! -- 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!" Part 1, Scene 2, pg. 16
Still one has to wonder if Amanda recognizes that she could very well be talking about herself. Amanda was perhaps once the bell of the ball; we have no reason to believe otherwise., but in the depression-era city she is jus one more deserted wife and mother with no visible means of support. Given a glimmer of hope she charges full on trying to turn the proverbial sows ear into a silk purse.
Appearance is vital to Amanda. She chides Tom for his unkempt appearance (part 3 scene 5) and gives us a clue as to what she saw in her departed husband when she says to Tom she wished that he would imitate his father in the way he looked after his appearance. Sweet young bell that she was, fooled by a handsome man with a mischievous smile. She needs to have her house looking perfect for the arrival of a guest, needs to have her daughter all prim and properly attired. In fact, Amanda's most joyful moment in the play comes with the preparation of her daughter for the arrival of the gentleman caller, who considering his engaged state is not a suitable caller at all, but a comic stand-in for a future that will not be realized. Yet, he is all they have, so Amanda makes do as she always has and always will. She has the ability to shrug off misfortune as the quirks of others. When treated rudely while selling magazines, something that shouldn't happen to a woman of her position, as with every other tough break in her life she just shrugs it off.
Certainly, though Amanda would prefer to think of herself as something more noble like the heroic character as defined by Aristotle, she instead fits much better as the Miller heroine, as the image she wishes to hold of herself clashes tremendously with her environment.
Amanda indeed would be perfectly at home and glad to accept her role as matron of the house -- if it was a fine house and her children were whole.
The thing about Amanda is that though she is a tragic character, she will endure. Like Miller says she does feel displaced, but partially because she had her indignation, she doesn't allow herself to believe she should be in this situation She is constant danger of being torn away from her chosen image in any instant. At the end of the play when the gentleman caller's plan unravels, she ironically accuses Tom of being the one without a sense of reality. 'You live in a dream: you manufacture illusions." Part 4, Scene 7, pg. 95. And when he leaves she tells him he can go to the moon. Tom never forgets what went on, never has any peace, but probably Amanda is the one looking to the moon making another wish and getting by.
1. Of all the tragic characters in Tennessee Williams' Glass Menageries perhaps the most tragic is Amanda, she has both expectations and little if any chance of seeing them fulfilled.
She is afflicted with all the elements that Arthur Miller attributes to the hero of modern dramas, at…