The Glass Menagerie

In reading Tennessee Williams' "memory play" The Glass Menagerie, students examine thematic topics such as individual freedom, obligation, reality and escape.



Unit 1

11th Grade

Unit Summary

In this unit, students read The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. According to Williams, it is a “memory play” that examines the lives of three members of the Wingfield Family. While the characters in the play bear significant resemblance to the playwright and his own family, the play is much more metaphor than memoir. In the opening lines of the play, Tom, who is both the narrator and a character in the play, tells the audience, “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.” Through every possible medium—the stage directions, character relationships, narration, and symbols—Williams questions reality. The question for the reader becomes, what lesson is he giving us about reality and escape? As they read the play, students will examine such thematic topics as individual freedom, obligation, and reality. As Robert Bray says of the characters in his introduction, “Each is trying to escape their own private hell and the hell they have collectively created. They all wish to ‘take flight.’” The thematic topics of reality and escape become the lens through which students read the play.

Reading some portions of the play aloud will help students experience the drama as it was intended to be experienced. In addition to investigating a new genre, this unit will have a heavy focus on SAT-style literary analysis writing prompts.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 1 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep

  1. Read and annotate the play.
  2. Read and annotate all secondary texts.
  3. Take unit exam.
  4. Write sample responses for essay prompts.

Essential Questions

  • Obligation and Individual Freedom: If an individual attempts to escape, what is the impact on his or her family and other obligations? Which is more important, our individual freedom or our responsibilities to others?
  • Reality: Is it possible to escape reality? Temporarily? Permanently? What is the impact on others when one person decides to avoid reality?

Writing Focus Areas

The writing that students will do in this unit is modeled on the writing prompts included in the new SAT (2016). Students are required to explain how the playwright uses specific literary techniques to convey theme. Students must use evidence from the text to build a compelling argument.


Literary Terms

memory play, unreliable narrator, tone, stage directions

Roots and Affixes

be-, arch-


menagerie (title), pathos (viii), deviations (xi), mastication (6), temperament (7), bewildered (13), spinster (16), fiasco (19), archetype (19), martyr (20), sullenly (29), listlessly (29), grotesquely (30), imploringly (36), demurely (40), executive (47), vitality (48), unobtrusive (51), imperiously (57), exhilaration (60), reverently (77), indolent (79), acutely (80)

Idioms and Cultural References

whatnot (4), “gentleman caller” (5), “skipped the light fantastic” i.e., “tripped the light fantastic” (5), blanc mange (7), DAR (11), “opium den” (24), “tommy gun” (24), D.H. Lawrence, Annunciation (38), Victrola (58), “sell you a bill of goods” (59), “Howdy do” (68), “The Pirates of Penzance” (77)

Content Knowledge and Connections

  • American Dream
  • Great Depression

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Unit 2

Things Fall Apart

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