Tennessee Williams is known for his use of symbols, tension, and irony. Williams uses all of these components to express the central theme of The Glass Menagerie - hope followed by despair. Each of the characters has dreams that are destroyed by the harsh realities of the world.
As the narrator blatantly admits, 'since I have a poet's weakness for symbols', symbols are central to The Glass Menagerie (Williams 30). Symbols are merely concrete substitutions used to express a particular theme, idea, or character. One major symbol is the fire escape which has a separate function for each of the characters. This fire escape provides a means of escape for Tom from his cramped apartment and nagging mother. Therefore, the fire escape for him represents a path to the outside world. For the gentleman caller, the fire escape provides the means through which Jim can enter the Wingfield apartment, thus entering their lives. For Amanda, the fire escape allows Jim to come into the apartment and prevent Laura from becoming a spinster. The significance of the fire escape for Laura is that it is her door to the inside world in which she can hide. It is ironic that when Laura does leave the security of her apartment, she falls. This symbolises Laura's inability to function properly in the outside world.
Another recurring symbol is the glass menagerie which represents Laura's hypersensitive nature and fragility. Laura is just as easily broken as a glass unicorn - and just as unique. When Jim accidentally bumps into the unicorn and breaks it, the unicorn is no longer unique. Likewise, when Jim kisses Laura and then shatters her hopes by telling her he's eng...
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...ructure of the entire play - an ironic pattern of romantic expectations, momentary fulfilment, and ultimate loss' (Thompson 13).
Works Cited and Consulted
Bloom, Harold. Introduction. Tennessee Williams. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 1-8.
King, Thomas L. "Irony and Distance in The Glass Menagerie." In Tennessee Williams. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 85-94.
Levy, Eric P. "'Through Soundproof Glass': The Prison of Self Consciousness in The Glass Menagerie." Modern Drama, 36. December 1993. 529-537.
Thompson, Judith J. Tennessee Williams' Plays: Memory, Myth, and Symbol. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. In Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, 4th ed. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995. 1519-1568.
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