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 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.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


  1. Read and annotate the play.
  2. Read and annotate all secondary texts.
  3. Take unit exam.
  4. Write mastery 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


  • The Glass Menagerie — Scenes 1-6

Students will be able to complete a mid-unit writing assessment.


Students will be able to use evidence in a discussion about the major themes of the play.



Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.11-12.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.11-12.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • L.11-12.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11—12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RI.11-12.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RL.11-12.2 — Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.11-12.3 — Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

  • RL.11-12.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

  • RL.11-12.6 — Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Writing Standards
  • W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.11-12.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

  • W.11-12.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.