The Glass Menagerie Plot Summary
Tom Wingfield, the narrator as well as a main character, appears at the beginning to explain that this play is made up of memories, and as such, it will seem unrealistic in some respects. He introduces himself, his mother Amanda, his sister Laura, and the photograph of his long-absent father. He also tells that audience about the most realistic character, Jim, who will be Laura's gentleman caller.
The play is set in the 1930's in St. Louis where his family lived in a shabby apartment that looked just like the ones surrounding it. Tom works in a shoe warehouse and is miserably unhappy with his life because he wants to find adventure and write poetry. His job at the warehouse certainly doesn't satisfy these desires. His mother, an aging Southern belle abandoned by her husband sixteen years ago, is constantly nagging Tom about ways to improve himself; he's so miserable with his life, that her nagging only increases his irritation and drives him to the movies night after night to escape his pathetic life. Laura, who is too shy to interact with people outside her family, is a recluse with a slight handicap who is unable to have a life outside the apartment and her collection of glass animals.
Laura has dropped out of the typing class that Amanda insisted she take to prepare for supporting herself if necessary; Laura quit because she was embarrassed that she threw up in the classroom before the first timed test. Amanda, at her wit's end for how to procure a stable life for Laura, decides that marriage is the only other option, and she must seek a man to marry. Amanda convinces Tom to bring home someone from the warehouse to meet his sister. She tells Tom that he can go seek adventure only when Laura's future is certain, and he cooperates.
Tom brings home Jim O'Connor, a guy he knew vaguely in high school as the golden boy of high school. Tom knows that Laura knew Jim slightly, but he doesn't realize that Jim is the only man Laura's ever had feelings for. When Jim arrives, Laura is too overcome with anxiety to eat dinner with them, but circumstances (with a little help from Amanda) find Laura and Jim alone in the living room. When he finally remembers who she is, Laura begins to come out of her shell. The conversation wanders through high school to the present, and Jim, convinced that Laura needs someone to boost her confidence and a little overcome by the moment, kisses her. Only then does he realize his drastic mistake. He explains that he's engaged and can't be involved with her, and he leaves, breaking her fragile heart in the process.
Amanda, completely enraged and hopeless, believes that Tom set them up to look like fools. She and Tom have a huge fight that sends him out to the movies again. Shortly after that night, Tom is fired from the warehouse for writing a poem on a shoebox lid, and he goes off with the Merchant Marines to find the adventure he craves just as his father did. The only problem is that Tom can't forget about Laura no matter where he goes, and he hasn't completely escaped the life he led in St. Louis.