November 25th, 2000
Tennessee Williams: Exploring the American Dream
Procedures for Teachers



  1. In writing journals, have students respond the what the term "searching for yourself" means to them.

  • In what ways are you "searching for yourself"?

  • When, if ever, does this search end?

  • Share responses in dyads or small groups.

  1. Consider one or more of these Tennessee Williams quotes on the following website:

  2. Discuss one or more of these in small groups. What can these lines tell you about the man and his work?
  3. Research Tennessee Williams on the internet. Here are some sites to get students started:

The Tennessee Williams page of The Mississippi Writers website, sponsored by the University of Mississippi English Department.

The Kennedy Center Honors Page for Tennessee Williams. Read about Williams’ 1979 bestowal of this distinguished honor, as well as other distinguished American artists also honored since 1978.

Contains an excellent Tennessee Williams biography, critical archive, and bibliography.


Activity One

(90 minutes)

  1. Write the term "lyrical" on the board. Ask students to brainstorm what they associate with the term. (examples of music, poetry, drama, visual arts)
  2. Look up the term "lyric" in the dictionary or on the internet. Have students discuss how the findings of their search expands or delimits their understanding of the term.
  3. Have students bring examples of something "lyrical" – a song, a poem, a magazine excerpt, a painting, a photo, a video – asking them to explain its "lyrical" qualities.

Activity Two

(2 hours)

  1. Have students read about the mythic journey of Orpheus to the Underworld. Below are some useful links to get you started:


    A quick Orpheus description from The Encyclopedia Mythica: An Encyclopedia on Mythology, Folklore, and Legend.

    The Orpheus and Eurydice page from Bulfinch’s Mythology website. ntennessee

    Encarta link to Tennessee Williams

  3. Have students respond in their writing journal to the following question:

    • How is Orpheus’s journey similar to a real-life story of someone you know or have heard about?

    • How is it like your own journey so far? Your journey(s) to come?

  1. Have students share their responses in dyads or small groups, and then with the whole class.

  2. Lead a summarizing discussion based upon students’ research and small group discussions focusing upon the parallel that can be drawn between Orpheus and life and work of Tennessee Williams.

Activity Three

(7 hours)

  1. Have students read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (or another of his plays). Have students keep a journal of their responses to the play which might include the following elements:

    • their reactions to specific lines and "lyrical" aspects of the play

    • their reactions to characters

    • their reactions to surprising plot developments

    • their reactions to emerging themes or "big ideas" elicited by the play

  1. Have students watch one or more performances of The Glass Menagerie (or another Williams’ play or movie) and critique the performance. Ask them to respond to these questions in their journals:

    • What aspects of the production were consistent with your interpretation? (portrayal of characters, how lines were delivered, how scenes were staged, how lighting and sound were used, etc.)

    • What surprised you about this production, and what would you have done differently?

  1. Share responses from small group discussions with the whole class.

  2. Have students break into small groups to act-out selected scenes.

Pre-production: Ask students to pay careful attention to staging (where are the characters positioned relative to one another? (2 acts, 8 total scenes)

Post-production: After each mini-production, have students reflect upon their own group performances:

    • What decisions did they make about staging, movement, timing, tone and volume of lines, etc.?

    • How effective was their execution of this plan? After each groups’ performance and subsequent self-assessment, have the rest of the class comment upon each performance.

5. Create a class rubric using elements of students’ critiques and assessments.

Activity Four

(2 hours)

(The following activity assumes that students will have read The Glass Menagerie)

  1. Ask students to respond in their writing journal to the following questions:

    • What is the American Dream?

    • Give one or more examples of people who, in your estimation, embody this Dream.

  1. Collect ideas from the entire class on board or overhead.

  2. Group these ideas into the broadest manageable categories (financial success, personal fulfillment, freedom of expression, etc.)

  3. Consider the fulfillment of the American Dream from the perspective of the characters in The Glass Menagerie.

    • Have students break into small groups and focus upon one of the four characters in the play:




Jim (the gentleman caller)

    • Have each group:

a. Discuss and define their character’s interpretation of this dream, citing examples from the text to support this interpretation.

b. Explain where the achievement of this dream fails or succeeds and why.

5. Conclude with a whole-class discussion in which they compare or discuss the evolution of the American Dream based upon their new knowledge about mid-Twentieth Century America and the life of Tennessee Williams.



Students will be assessed on the quality of their participation in class discussions, the quality of their writing, and the quality of their presentations.


Extension Activities

  1. Have students create a presentation on someone who they believe embodies the American Dream.

  2. Share their presentations with the whole class.


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