The Glass Menagerie: Symbols Essay, Research Paper
The Glass Menagerie: Symbols
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. 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
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 married.
As can be seen, there are quite a few symbols in this play. And a number of them
have diverse meanings. 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
“memory play.” It is obvious that this memory play is based on Williams’ own