Jim O’Connor is a friend of Tom’s from the warehouse where they both work. Tennessee Williams describes him in his notes to the play as “A nice, ordinary young man.” Jim is the “gentleman caller” who is invited to dinner by Tom, and in whom Amanda places her hopes for finding a husband for Laura.
Jim was an outstanding success in high school, and everyone thought he would succeed in life. However, in the six years that have elapsed since he graduated, he has found life much tougher than he might have expected. At the warehouse, he is a shipping clerk, which is only a slightly better position than Tom’s. However, Jim is a cheerful, optimistic young man, who is determined to get on in life. He is studying public speaking and radio engineering at night school, and wants to go into the fledgling television industry. When he visits the Wingfield family, Jim does his best to draw Laura out of her shell, but his enthusiasm runs away with him and he makes the mistake of kissing her. He then has to explain that he must disappoint her because he has a steady girlfriend named Betty.
Amanda Wingfield is the mother of Tom and Amanda. Amanda spent her youth in the south, and in a way she continues to live there, endlessly telling her children stories of her life back in those days. Her desire to live in the past is perhaps not surprising, given that it was so much more enjoyable than the life she has in the present-living on limited means in an apartment in a rundown area of St. Louis.
Amanda’s husband deserted her sixteen years ago, and she is scared that Tom will turn out like his father. But she does not realize that by her constant attempts to manage his life for him, she is driving him away. Amanda is resourceful and energetic, and her sole ambition is that her son and daughter should be successful and happy. But her attempts to marry off Laura to Jim are a terrible failure and leave her desolate, although she still manages to put a brave face on things.
Laura Wingfield is Amanda’s daughter. She is an extremely shy young woman in her early twenties. Following a childhood illness, she is crippled and wears a leg brace. Laura is so withdrawn, so unable to make contact with reality, that she spends her time playing with her collection of glass animals and listening to gramophone records. The failure of her encounter with Jim makes her even more withdrawn. Tennessee Williams wrote of her, “she is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf.”
Tom Wingfield is the narrator of the play as well as a character in it. He is Amanda’s son and Laura’s brother. Tom is a poet, and he feels stifled by his unrewarding job at the warehouse and the tense situation at home, where he is always quarreling with his controlling mother. He wants to escape his situation, just as his father managed to escape many years before. His goal is to join the merchant marine, and he is prepared to be ruthless in accomplishing his goal-for example, paying his dues to the seaman’s union with the money that should have been used to pay the electricity bill. But even though he does manage to leave the family home, he does not find happiness. As he travels from city to city, he cannot forget the sister he left behind.