In this memory play, narrator Tom Wingfield who is also a character in the play, tells the story from his memories. Set in St. Louis in 1937, Tom works a tiresome job in a shoe warehouse in order to support his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura. His father, Mr. Wingfield, left the family years ago, and with the exception of one postcard, has not been heard from since. But his presence is pervasive, as his picture still hangs in the family’s living room.
It is dinnertime in the Wingfield home; and Amanda regales, once again, tales of her many suitors as a young women in the South. She is disheartened by Laura’s profound shyness and her inability to attract men the same way she did. In hopes of helping her gain some confidence, Amanda enrolls Laura in a business college.
Weeks later, Amanda discovers that Laura has dropped out without telling her. Amanda decides something must be done to find suitors for Laura. She starts selling magazine subscriptions in order to earn extra money, something Amanda is sure to bring the men calling.
Meanwhile, Tom is miserable at work and seeks distraction in the movies, drinking, literature, and writing, much to his mother’s disappointment. He knows his mother and sister rely on his income, but he feels trapped. Tom and Amanda argue frequently, and during one of their quarrels, Tom accidently breaks several of Laura’s prized glass figurines.
The next morning, Tom apologizes to his mother and they talk about his restlessness and Laura’s prospects. She asks him to keep an eye out for “nice, young men” at the warehouse to introduce to Laura. A few days later, he invites Jim O’Connor, a casual friend, home to dinner. Amanda is ecstatic and wants everything to be perfect.
The next evening, Amanda prepares an elaborate meal and insists Laura wear a new dress. Laura is petrified, especially when she discovers that Jim is the same person she had a crush on in high school. Tom and Jim arrive, and Laura, still terrified, quickly leaves the room. The men discuss their jobs at the warehouse, and Tom admits to Jim that he has used the money for their electric bill to join the Merchant Marines and leave his job and family, seeking adventure in the world.
Throughout dinner, Laura feigns illness while Amanda is a reincarnation of her flirty younger self. As dinner ends, the lights go out as a result of the unpaid electric bill. Candles are lit and Amanda encourages Jim to keep Laura company while she and Tom clean up dinner. At first Laura is paralyzed by her shyness when Jim joins her, but, once they start talking, she begins to come out of her shell. They reminisce about how they knew each other in high school and the nickname, “Blue Roses,” he had for her. Things continue to go well between Laura and Jim and they enjoy each other’s company.
Will Laura finally be able to overcome her shyness? Will Tom actually abandon his position as family breadwinner? Can Amanda let go of the past and help her children find their futures? The answers all lie in the conclusion of this classic American drama of a dire family’s challenges and fragility.