Amanda Wingfield is the matriarch of the house. She is a single mother who had to raise both her children alone, after being abandoned by her husband 16 years ago. Williams modeled Amanda on the stereotype of his signature character- the Southern Belle. The Southern Belle was characterized as a young woman belonging to the upper socioeconomic class, of the plantation owning South American families in the 1930s. These women were fashionable, well mannered, and were expected to find wealthy husbands and settle down as part of respectable society by being good, jolly wives. To understand more of Amanda’s character and why she thinks and behaves the way she does, one will have to read more about the history of slavery in South America in the 1930s.
The play shows her downfall from wealth to poverty after her marriage to Mr. Wingfield. As a beautiful and wealthy young woman, she was the subject of the attention of many gentlemen callers and enjoyed a comfortable youth, filled with flowers, dancing, and laughter. She fell in love and got married to Mr Wingfield but fate took an unfortunate turn when she was abandoned by her husband. As a young mother, she had to fend for herself and the children. In the play, her personality is extroverted and theatrical, which is in contrast to her children who are introverted and subdued. She is a doting mother who makes sacrifices for a better future for her children and wishes them happiness. In scene 5, we hear her say;
“I’ll tell you what I wished for on the moon. Success and happiness for my precious children! I wish for that whenever there’s a moon, and when there isn’t a moon, I wish for it, too.”
She takes up subscription sales to earn some money so that she can improve Laura’s marriage prospects. She encourages her daughter to get a business education so that she can support herself financially. She dissuades Laura from perceiving her limp as a disability and let it become a limiting belief.
However, Amanda’s mothering cannot be seen without its flaws. Even though she tells her children to engage with reality and “rise and shine’, her own inability to accept her present reality and circumstances give her a hypocritical shade. She often exaggerates the glory of her youth and repetitively talks about her unmarried days. She lives in her own version of a romanticized past. She shows single-minded strength in wanting a better future for her children but she is unable to see beyond marriage as a good future for Laura after she drops out of her business class. Her desire for Laura to become financially independent and for Tom to progress in his career at the shoe factory may be tinged with selfishness, as she is economically dependent on her children. In her quest to encourage her children, she ends up becoming an extremely critical and nagging parent, going to the extent of controlling every move of theirs, like telling Tom how he should eat his food; “Honey, don’t push with your fingers. If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread. And chew – chew!”
She tries to control Tom and direct his behavior because she fears that he might turn out to be exactly like his father. She wants to do the right thing for her children but instead, ends up projecting conventional notions of gender roles on them, which she thinks are right for them. She tells Laura to be more feminine, not accepting her for the person she is. She expects Tom to provide for the family as the man of the house, against his wishes. This attitude overwhelms her children and pushes them away from her. While Laura busies herself with her collection of glass animals to ignore her nagging mother, Tom expresses his frustration in little acts of rebellion like drinking, lying, storming off to the movies or the fire escape to smoke, and ultimately leaving, in a final act of abandonment.
Being abandoned by her husband, and then being disregarded by her children makes Amanda a tragic figure and the audience feels sorry for her. Her girlish and inflated attempts to appear younger and charm Jim also make her a comic figure in the eyes of the audience and we can’t help but feel embarrassed and amused. In the end, she comes across as a tragicomic figure, whose fate is partially her own fault.