In his drama, The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams uses symbolism in order to develop multi-faceted characters and to display the recurring themes of the play. These various symbols appear throughout the entire piece, and they are usually disguised as objects or imagery. They allow the reader to know the characters’ personalities, and their true inside characteristics. These symbols also add to the major themes, which develop as the play gains momentum. In the drama, symbols play the most important role.
One of the most recurring symbols is the glass menagerie itself. It consists of glass animals frozen in form and it is housed at the Wingfield’s apartment. The glass menagerie has a high amount of meaning for all of the characters in this play. “Ultimately, the glass menagerie is symbolic of all their shattered dreams, failing to fulfill their transcendent aspirations, the Wingfields find themselves confined to a wasteland reality, their dreams become a ‘heap of broken images’” (Thompson 15). Just as the menagerie itself is frozen in time, the Wingfields are also. They are restricted to the one way of living that they have practiced as time had passed, so they do not know how to break free of that confinement. All the characters as a whole have tried to escape the harsh reality, but in every case they manage to fail, and in turn shatter their dreams like glass. This continuing struggle is a large part of the major theme of The Glass Menagerie.
Just as the glass menagerie represents all of the characters as a whole, it also represents each character individually. “Though the glass menagerie is most directly relevant to Laura, all four characters have sublimated their animal drives into esthetics. Laura has her glass animals, Tom his movies and poems, Amanda her jonquil-filled memories distorted into hopes, and Jim his baritone cliches of progress” (Cohn 101). Though Amanda blames her children alone for relying on false illusions, she too carries this fault. Although it is obvious that the glass menagerie represents Laura because of her frailty, Tom, Amanda, and even Jim are exemplified too. They all concentrate their powers in illusions, only in different ways.
More specifically, the glass menagerie unravels the character of Laura and lets the reader into her true personality. The glass menagerie “embodies the fragility of Laura’s world, her search for beauty; it registers sensitively changes in lighting and stands in vivid contrast to the harshness of the outer world which can (and does) shatter so easily” (Stein 110-111). Glass itself, being so fragile, is the perfect item that can symbolize Laura. Just as it can shatter so easily when exposed, Laura can too. The glass being translucent also symbolizes Laura’s struggle to become her own person and to let her inside feelings know to the world. Though it is learned that Laura has a physical handicap, and emotional handicap lies within her also. It enables her to lead a normal life, and restricts her to illusions. The glass menagerie symbolizes this because it shows that Laura as an unreal image, not made of the human characteristics others possess. Drained of the courage and self-esteem needed to face the world, all that is left is a defenseless girl unable to face the world. The glass menagerie’s “frozen animal forms image her own immobilized animal or sexual nature, her arrested emotional development, and her inability to cope with the demands of a flesh-and-blood world” (Thompson 15). The menagerie also symbolizes the change, which takes place when Laura is exposed to Jim. Jim reveals a side of Laura that the reader is not familiar with at this time. He recharges her self-confidence and boasts her courage and trust, but this does not last. As described by Williams, “A fragile, unearthly prettiness has cone out in Laura,” when with...
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