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, Leal 2
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 brace. The unicorn and Laura are alike in this way. When Jim dances with Laura, he knocks over the unicorn and the horn breaks off. Now it is like all of the other horses. "The unicorn losing its horn is a symbol. The unicorn in its original state symbolizes something different. It is delicate, beautiful, and precious in it's own unique way. This could symbolize Laura has natural beauty in an "unearthly way" that is hidden by her shyness and limp.
When Laura starts to talk to Jim, she gets more confidence in herself and realizes that she is not that different from everyone else in the world. The horn symbolizes a difference, an obstacle to be overcome and admired." (Ross) Like Laura has to overcome her shyness and limp to become like everyone else, the unicorn loses its difference.
The fire escape is a major symbol in this play. It represents a different symbol for each character. For Amanda, the fire escape is a way for her to be protected from the outside world, or reality. She cannot live in the present, and the lack of a front door makes it easy for her to avoid real life. She convinces herself that she isn't capable of leaving the safe haven she has created by locking herself inside the strange apartment. She has become trapped by her memories.
Laura uses the fire escape as a symbol in a similar way. She, too, is protected from the outside world by the fire escape, and she is also limited by it because of her handicap. It will require an extra effort for Laura to overcome her limp and get out into the world using the fire escape, symbolizing how her life is more difficult because of...