Tom is both a character within as well as the narrator of the play. He lives in St. Louis with his mother Amanda and sister Laura. He works in the warehouse of Continental Shoemakers, but aspires to write poetry. He has secretly begun paying dues to the Merchant Marines in the hopes of joining soon and leaving town for a life of adventure and travel. When frustrated with life at home, he escapes to the movies, but he's also opposed to the way in which Americans are content to sit back and watch other people take action, while being hesitant to do things themselves. He feels himself following in the footsteps of his father, who abandoned the family years earlier. His desires to rid himself of familial bonds are complicated, though, by his affinity for his sister Laura, who he feels protective of. He brings his only friend at the warehouse, Jim O'Conner, home to dinner to meet Laura and the night is both transcendent and disastrous. By the end of the play, Tom departs from St. Louis.
Laura is a girl with a delicate constitution. We're told that she's "crippled" (the play's terminology) in some way, but it's never made exactly clear what that is. She wears a leg brace and is extremely concerned that it makes her look clumsy. She had enrolled in secretarial classes at Rubicam's Business College, but dropped out because she was so nervous on the first day of class that her fingers shook too much to type. She fled class, vomited in the bathroom, and never returned. She's been walking in the park and the zoo during the days to hide from her mother the fact that she's not going to school anymore. The thing that is closest to Laura's heart is her glass menagerie -- a collection of dozens of small glass animals. She spends much time dusting and polishing them and attributes lifelike qualities to each member. She has harbored a crush on Jim O'Conner since they were in high school together at Soldan and Jim famously starred in the Pirates of Penzance. Jim had a nickname for Laura back then, which he gave to her after her absence from school due to a bout of pleurosis. He thought she said "Blue Roses" instead of "pleurosis."
The mother of Tom and Laura, Amanda is an ex-southern belle (or so she tells us), who has now been left by her husband -- a telephone repairman -- and is penniless. She depends on Tom's job at Continental for the family's money, and also hopes that Laura will either pursue a career in business or marry someone who can support them. She is terrified that she and Laura will have to appeal to their relatives if Tom should leave town, as she suspects him of planning to do. Amanda grew up in Blue Mountain -- a fact that she never tires of telling Tom and Laura -- where she had many gentleman callers and was constantly besieged by offers for dates. She reminisces loudly and constantly, much to her childrens' exasperation. She is overly theatrical, dramatic and overbearing.
Jim is Tom's only friend at Continental, and Laura's high school crush. In high school, by everyone's consensus, he seemed destined for great success. He was the class president, captain of the debate team, and starred in all the school plays and musicals. He was quite popular and confident, but now his job at the warehouse is basically equivalent to Tom's. He is, however, enrolled in public speaking and radio engineering night classes, and is determined to get an executive position for himself, either down at the warehouse or in television broadcasting -- a growing field that he is very excited about. When he comes to the Wingfield's for dinner he seems to fall in love with Laura, and the two even dance together briefly. But then he reveals that he's engaged to be married, and rushes out of the apartment to pick up his fiancÚ, Betty.
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