Glass Menagerie Essay, Research Paper
In Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie, 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 a link to a world of illusion. Just a few of these are the fire escape, the movies, and even more important, Laura’s glass unicorn. Williams uses numerous representations in his play to create a more elaborate story for the reader. Some are very subtle such as the blue roses flashed across the screen. These may represent the melancholy attitude of Laura. Many, however are much more glaring.
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. While it may be a symbol of passage to all the charachters, it seems to have an individualized meaning to each of them as well. 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, he would rather venture out into the world. As Tom seeks a route outward, Laura, thinks of the fire escape as a way into her own private place where she is safe from reality. This can be seen when Amanda sends Laura to go to the store and Laura trips on the fire escape. She uses it much more directly to shield her from the harsh world that she despises. This also shows that Laura’s fears and emotions greatly affect her physical condition, and perhaps even begin to throw doubt on the degree of her handicap.
Another symbol presented deals more with Tom than any of the other characters. This is Tom’s habit of going to the movies. It shows us his longing to leave the apartment and head out into the world away from the confines of the same rooms he has always known. A place where one can find adventure and romance. And Tom, being a poet, can understand the longing men sometimes have for adventure and romance. A similar symbol is the poster of the Merchant Marines, which Tom aspires to join. He is kept from realizing his ambitions by Amanda, who criticizes him for being a “selfish dreamer.” But, Tom has made steps to escape from his monotonous life by transferring the payment of a light bill to pay for his dues in the Merchant Seaman’s Union.
Still another symbol, which deals with both Amanda and Laura, is Jim O’Connor. To Laura, Jim represents her greatest fear, reality. She is so scared of facing up to life that she runs from any responsibility or connection to the outside world. 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 relishing in her “seventeen gentlemen callers on one Sunday afternoon.” Although Amanda desires to see Laura settled down with a nice young man, it is easy to see that she wanted a gentleman caller to be invited for Laura so she could live vicariously through her and remember what it felt like to be wanted.
One of the most obvious symbols is Laura’s glass menagerie. Her collection of glass animals 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 toward her. She understands that she is one the main reasons he can not live him life the way he wants to. Also, it is not just a coincidence that the piece involved was the unicorn, which 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 shattered love of him, because he has revealed that he is engaged to be married.
As can be seen, there are more than just a few symbols in this play. A number of them have very intricate meanings. A great many of them have a direct relation to events in the author’s own life. It is easy to understand why Williams chose to write this as a memory play since he was using many of his own memories. It is obvious that this memory play is based on Williams’ own memories and that he feels linked to Tom. The play is filled with objects and visions that Williams uses to contribute to the recurring themes and motives of the play. His use of symbolism is, indeed, very effective.