Great Quotes From the Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

A Famous American Play

Tennessee Williams relaxing with a drink

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The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is often called a memory play. We learn about a small American family, that would probably be considered rather normal or everyman family. The play is also popular because there are autobiographical elements.

Scene 1

"In memory everything seems to happen to music."

Tom Wingfield is speaking as narrator. There's an interesting quality that seems to associate itself without memories. It sometimes feels as though we are watching the events unfold before us (on a stage) or watching a replayed movie—of someone else's life—that's been set to music. It doesn't always seem real. And, even if we know that it happened, there's that feeling that we're all pawns in some huge, but very artificial menagerie.

"Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

Here, in Scene 1, Tom Wingfield is speaking as narrator. He's one of the characters in the action of this play, but he's also a twist on the concept of a magician.

Scene 2

"Mother, when you're disappointed, you get that awful suffering look on your face, like the picture of Jesus' mother in the museum."

Laura Wingfield is talking to her mother (Amanda). The interplay could be described as a rather-typical mother-daughter interchange.

"I know so well what becomes of unmarried women who aren't prepared to occupy a position. 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! Is that the future that we've mapped out for ourselves?"

Amanda Wingfield has tied herself into the fortunes (and futures—good and bad) of her children, which explains some of her manipulative mentality toward them.

"Why you're not crippled, you just have a little defect—hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to make up for it—develop charm—and vivacity—and—charm!

Note: Amanda Wingfield is manipulating her daughter, Laura.

"Girls that aren't cut out for business careers usually wind up married to some nice man."

Amanda Wingfield has learned that her daughter, Laura, has dropped out of business school.

Scene 3

"I took that horrible novel back to the library—yes! That hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence. I cannot control the output of diseased minds or people who cater to them—BUT I WON'T ALLOW SUCH FILTH BROUGHT INTO MY HOUSE! No, no, no, no, no!"


"Every time you come in yelling that Goddamn "Rise and Shine! Rise and Shine!" I say to myself, "How lucky dead people are!" But I get up. I go! For sixty-five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever! And you say self—self's all I ever think of. Why, listen, if self is what I though of, Mother, I'd be where he is GONE!"


Scene 4

"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!"


"Man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter, and none of those instincts are given much play at the warehouse!"

Tom as he argues with his mother Amanda about his career

"This was the compensation for lives that passed like mine, without any change or adventure. Adventure and change were imminent in this year. They were waiting around the corner for all these kids."


Scene 5

"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!"

Amanda to Tom

"No girl can do worse than put herself at the mercy of a handsome appearance. The Glass Menagerie Amanda, referring to the bad choice she made in marrying a handsome man, Scene 5. She lives in a world of her own—a world of—little glass ornaments."

Tom, about Laura.

Scene 6

"He was shooting with such velocity through his adolescence that you would logically expect him to arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty."

Tom's impressions of Jim O'Connor when they were both in high school

"All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be."

This is a perfect representation of a modernist perspective on marriage and relationships. Amanda is trying to make her daughter, Laura, as attractive as possible. It's jaded and does not seem to have the idea of "love" as part of the equation.

"People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! Yes, until there's a war. That's when adventure becomes available to the masses."


"I know I seem dreamy, but inside—well, I'm boiling! Whenever I pick up a shoe, I shudder a little thinking how short life is and what I am doing! Whatever that means, I know it doesn't mean shoes - except as something to wear on a traveler's feet!"


"All of my gentlemen callers were sons of planters and so of course I assumed that I would be married to one and raise my family on a large piece of land with plenty of servants. But man proposes—and woman accepts the proposal! To vary that old, old saying a bit-I married no planter! I married a man who worked for the telephone company!"

This is an example of Amanda, and her brand of Southern-belle sentimentality and charm—high in volume and heavy on the flourish.

Scene 7

"People are not so dreadful when you get to know them."

Jim is giving his sister words-of-wisdom (to help with shyness).

"You think of yourself as having the only problems, as being the only one who is disappointed. But just look around you and you will see lots of people as disappointed as you are."

Jim to Laura

"I believe in the future of television! I wish to be ready to go up right along with it. Therefore I'm planning to get in on the ground floor. In fact I've already made the right connections and all that remains is for the industry itself to get under way! Full steam—Knowledge—Zzzzzp! Money—Zzzzzp!—Power! That's the cycle democracy is built on."


"Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here's an example of one, if you'd like to see it! ... Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks! ... Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?"

This is part of the interaction between Laura and Jim, who accidentally bumps the table (while they are dancing). The glass unicorn breaks.

"Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are."

Laura is talking to Jim, but it's an ironic reference to Laura (and to her whole family). They are all fragile, and will break apart.

"I wish that you were my sister. I'd teach you to have some confidence in yourself. The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Because other people are not such wonderful people. They're one hundred times one thousand. You're one times one! They walk all over the earth. You just stay here. They're common as—weeds, but—you—well, you're—Blue Roses!"

Jim is talking to Laura

"Things have a way of turning out so badly."

Amanda is being her ole pessimistic self, thinking the worst in every situation!

"You don't know things anywhere! You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions!"

Amanda is criticizing Tom yet again. In reality, he has a better, more firm, grasp of reality than she does. She exists in a glass menagerie of her own making, and wants to control every aspect of it.

"That's right, now that you've had us make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! all for what? To entertain some other girl's fiancé! Go to the movies, go! Don't think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job! Don't let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure I just go, go, go—to the movies!"


"I didn't go to the moon, I went much further—for time is the longest distance between two places."


"I left Saint Louis. I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father's footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. . . . I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. . . . I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger—anything that can blow your candles out!—for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles Laura—and so goodbye."

This is the closing scene in the play. Tom is giving an update on what has happened in his life, in the intervening years.

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Lombardi, Esther. "Great Quotes From the Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 26). Great Quotes From the Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "Great Quotes From the Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).