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The Glass Menagerie


The play " The Glass Menagerie", by Tennessee Williams,
Williams uses many symbols which represent many different
things. Many of the symbols used in the play try to
symbolize some form of escape or difference between reality
and illusion. The first symbol, presented in the first
scene, is the fire escape. This represents the "bridge"
between the illusory world of the Wingfields and the world
of reality. This "bridge" seems to be a one way passage.
But the direction varies for each character. For Tom, the
fire escape is the way out of the world of Amanda and Laura
and an entrance into the world of reality. For Laura, the
fire escape is a way into her world of illusion; a way to
escape from reality. Both examples can readily be seen: Tom
will stand outside on the fire escape to smoke, showing
that he does not like to be inside, to be a part of the
illusionary world. Laura, on the other hand, thinks of the
fire escape as a way in and not a way out.
This can be seen when Amanda sends Laura to go to the
store: Laura trips on the fire escape. This also shows that
Laura's fears and emotions greatly affect her physical
condition, more so than normal people.
Another symbol presented deals more with Tom than any of
the other characters: Tom's habit of going to the movies
shows us his longing to leave the apartment and head out
into the world of reality. A place where one can find
adventure. And Tom, being a poet, can understand the needs
of man to long for adventure and romance. But he is kept
from entering reality by Amanda, who criticizes him as
being a "selfish dreamer." But, Tom has made steps to
escape into reality by transferring the payment of a light
bill to pay for his dues in the Merchant Seaman's Union.
Another symbol, which deals with both Amanda and Laura, is
Jim O'Connor. To Laura, Jim represents the one thing she
fears and does not want to face, reality. Jim is a perfect
example of "the common man." A person with no real
outstanding quality. In fact, Jim is rather awkward, which
can be seen when he dances with Laura. To Amanda, Jim
represents the days of her youth, when she went frolicking
about picking jonquils and supposedly having "seventeen
gentlemen callers on one Sunday afternoon." Although Amanda
desires to see Laura settled down with a nice young man, it
is hard to tell whether she wanted a gentleman caller to be
invited for Laura or for herself.
One symbol which is rather obvious is Laura's glass
menagerie. Her collection of glass represents her own
private world. Set apart from reality, a place where she
can hide and be safe. The events that happen to Laura's
glass affects Laura's emotional state greatly. When Amanda
tells Laura to practice typing, Laura instead plays with
her glass. When Amanda is heard walking up the fire escape,
she quickly hides her collection. She does this to hide her
secret world from the others. When Tom leaves to go to the
movies in an angered rush, he accidentally breaks some of
Laura's glass. The shattered glass represents Laura's
understanding of Tom's responsibilities to her. Also, the
unicorn, which is important, represents Laura directly.
Laura points out to Jim that the unicorn is different, just
as she is different. She also points out that the unicorn
does not complain of being different, as she does not
complain either. And when Jim breaks the horn off the
unicorn, Laura points out that now it is like the other
horses, just as Laura has shed some of her shyness and
become more normal. When she hands the broken unicorn to
Jim, this might represent Laura handing over her broken
love to Jim, as Jim has revealed that he is engaged to be
As can be seen, there are quite a few symbols in this play.
 A number of them have diverse meanings, however, most of
these symbols have a direct meaning in the author's own
life. This is understandable, seeing that the play is
supposed to be a "memory play." It is obvious that this
memory play is based on Williams' own memories. 


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