The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, is a perfect example of how Williams incorporates symbols, tensions, and irony to help express the central theme of the play.
One of the most dominant symbols in the play is the fire escape. It represents something different for each of the characters. Tom uses the fire escape to escape from his cramped apartment and nagging mother. Therefore, the fire escape symbolizes a path to the outside world. For Jim, the gentleman caller, the fire escape represents a means of entering the Wingfield apartment and by doing so, entering the Wingfields' lives. The mother, Amanda, sees the fire escape as a possible entrance for Jim into the apartment and as an answer to the fear she has of her daughter becoming a spinster. Lastly, for Laura, the fire escape represents a place she can go to hide from the real world.
The glass menagerie itself is another symbol. It represents how fragile, sensitive, and unique Laura is. Laura's prize piece is the unicorn, which Jim bumps into and brakes. After the unicorn is broken, it is no longer unique. Just as after Jim kisses Laura and tells her of his engagement to be married, she becomes both heart-broken and a little less unique. In this area, Jim represents the outside world. When the unicorn and Laura are exposed to Jim (or the outside world) they break. By Laura giving Jim the broken unicorn, she is also giving him her broken heart to take with him. She gives him the broken unicorn because it is no longer unique, and to her neither is Jim. Likewise, when Jim leaves, he will also leave behind a little of himself in Laura's broken heart.
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...ls Laura that he's engaged. This confirms that Laura will be unable to fulfill her dream.
It appears that each time a character thinks he or she is moving forward, he or she has the reality of moving backwards. The characters never give up trying, but still no one can move forward from the Wingfields' world. Not even Tom can escape, and he has already left.
The Glass Menagerie is indeed a perfect example of how Williams incorporates symbols, tensions, and irony to help express the central theme of the play.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Kahn, Sy. Modern American Drama: Essays in Criticism. Edited by Willima E. Taylor. Deland, Florida. Everette/Edwards Inc., 1968. 71-88
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Writing, Thinking. 5th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford, 1999.
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