Symbolism is a major aspect in Tennessee William's famous play, "The Glass Menagerie." On the surface, the short slice of life story seems to be simple. However, if the reader digs deeper they will find that there are several symbols that give the play a deeper meaning. Each character defines each symbol in a different way. Aside from character symbols, there is overall symbolism in this play. It is set in a memory, so it creates a soft, dream-like setting. This lends to the whole idea behind the play that the characters are unable to function in reality. "None of the characters are capable of living in the present. All of the characters retreat into their separate worlds to escape the brutalities of life." (Ross).
There are some very noticeable symbols that have been analyzed many times since study has begun on "The Glass Menagerie." The first is the actual glass menagerie that represents the fragility of the Wingfield's dreamlike existence. The second is the fire escape, which reflects each character's tendency to escape from reality in their own ways. The third is the yellow dress, which represents youth and the past. The gentleman caller, Jim O'Connor, represents change and also hopes for the future, as well as a reflection of Amanda's past. Tom also has his own symbols of escape. He uses his poetry and the movies to run from his problems at home.
Literary symbols can be both universal and conventional symbols that derive additional meanings through their use in a particular work." (Kirszner and Mandell pg. 245)
The actual animal collection, or glass menagerie, symbolizes each character and the story. Like the glass animals, the character's realities are very fragile and in danger of being shattered. It is also as though the characters are stuck in glass, unable to move or change, also like the glass animals. They are inanimate, as the characters have learned to be to hide and escape from the pain that life has given them. Laura loves the glass animals because her family is like them. It will not take much, like Tom leaving, to shatter their whole world.
Laura is symbolized by her fragile collection of glass animals, the glass menagerie. Her favorite animal is the unique unicorn. The unicorn is different because it has a horn. When Laura was in high school, she wore a b...
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...r enrolled her in. She becomes physically ill when she thinks of leaving her protective shell of the apartment. When she does go to class, she throws up on the floor. When Jim comes over, she becomes faint. Then he breaks her unicorn's horn. In this moment, it is as though this trauma with Jim has desensitized Laura to her fear of the unknown. The reader can only hope that she gathers strength from this event, and she is able to get over her shyness and do something to better her chances for survival on her own.
The change for Tom is less evident. He is classified as a "dreamer." In this new industrial world, there is little room for those who are not hard working and practical. Jim calls him Shakespeare, although he secretly laughs at him for being so whimsical as wanting to be a poet. Jim, on the other hand is a practical and loyal man.
He has aspirations of love family, and success. That is why he cannot stay in the Wingfield dreamland, and leaves as quickly as he arrives there.
The many symbols in "The Glass Menagerie" can be interpreted in several ways. These are just a few interpretations derived from reading the play and other essays that analyze "The Glass Menagerie."
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