Exploring Amanda of The Glass Menagerie
Tennessee Williams has a gift for character. Not many playwrights do, and even fewer possess the unique ability to craft a character as paradoxical and complex as Amanda Wingfield. In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda is a very difficult character to understand because of her psychological disposition. Williams realizes this and provides the reader with a character description in hopes of making the character more accessible to meticulous analysis.
AMANDA WINGFIELD the mother. A little woman of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place. Her characterization must be carefully created, not copied from type. She is not paranoiac, but her life is paranoia. There is much to admire in Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at. Certainly she has endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is tenderness in her slight person. (Williams 781)
“Before the first lines are spoken Amanda's complexity is established”(Falk 126) by the nuances and contrasts given here. This basic description must be kept in mind during every movement and syllable throughout the play in order to render Amanda’s true self. Even when the reader is shown only small glimpses of Amanda’s personality, he or she should still be able to flesh out her motives through this initial knowledge of her natural state of mind.
The complexity of Amanda's character directly affects her action and dialogue with her children. In her role as mother she exhibits an overwhelming desire to see her children succeed in life. In trying to push them toward her ideal of success, she at times unwittingly hurts them even though she means well. Her actions often hide her intense love for her children, but it is an important driving force in her motivations. She loves them too well--at times to a point of smothering them (perhaps the reason for the departure of her husband)--which results in her attempt to push them towards all the good things she has known and remembered and away from anything that does not suit her ideal.
As Amanda calls Tom to the table in Scene I and comments on manners and habits, we have our first glimpse of Amanda, the mother. She corrects actions much as mothers have done throughout time in accordance with her own sense of importance.
Animals have sections in their stomachs which enable them to digest food without mastication, but human beings are supposed to chew their food before they swallow it down. Eat food leisurely, son, and really enjoy it. A well-cooked meal has lots of delicate flavors that have to be held in the mouth for appreciation. So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function. (Williams 783 ll. 57-65)
Thus, for Amanda, the variety of dishes to be savored during the elegant leisurely meals of her youth have become synonymous with...