The Glass Menagerie

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Research Paper
“The Glass Menagerie”

English 102
Spring 2010


I. Introduction

a. Thesis statement- Playwright Williams uses symbolism throughout “The Glass

Menagerie” to illustrate the struggle for happiness that each character faces.

II. Symbolism

a. The Glass Menagerie

b. Escape

c. The Unicorn

d. Darkness

III. Conclusion

The purpose of this paper is to introduce and analyze the play “The Glass Menagerie” by

Tennessee Williams. Specifically it will discuss the symbolism and imagery in this play. “The

Glass Menagerie” is a tragic story of the Wingfield family, a dysfunctional family of dreamers

who never seem to actually achieve their dreams. Amanda, the mother, is domineering and lives

in the past, Laura, the fragile daughter is disabled and cannot face reality, and Tom, the son, is

dissatisfied with his life, his family and his future. Together, the family is dysfunctional and

dissatisfied, and each one attempts to escape reality in some way, which is one of the richest

symbols in the play. Playwright Williams uses symbolism throughout “The Glass Menagerie” to

illustrate the struggle for happiness that each character faces.

“The Glass Menagerie” itself is an element of symbolism in the play, and a very

important element. One literary critic notes, “The central image in this play, from which the

work takes its name, is Laura’s glass menagerie. Within the play, it allows us to see the

childlike fixation on a private world of make-believe animals and delicacy of this isolated girl”

(Tischler 33). The menagerie really symbolizes Laura herself, and the many facets of the glass

animals represent the many facets of her own personality. In addition, the creatures are fragile

and whimsical at the same time, and the entire idea of the collection, and Laura’s fascination (or

obsession) with it seems old-fashioned and outmoded in some way, just as Laura seems old-

fashioned and backward because of her extreme shyness and fear of others. The animals are

delicate, and so is Laura, so they symbolize her life and how dependent she is on others. She is

clearly incapable of making her way in the adult world and the animals represent her ties to her

childhood that she clearly does not want to leave. The figures are also “dependent” on Laura for

their care; she dusts them, tries to protect them from breakage, and “mothers” them in her own

way, so they mirror her own relationship with her mother.

Escape is a central symbol in this play and the Wingfield apartment has its own fire

escape, which is a very concrete symbol of Tom’s desperate need to leave his family and create

his own life. He often “escapes” to the fire escape to smoke or remove himself from his mother

and her nagging. His mother notes, “A fire-escape landing’s a poor excuse for a porch”

(Williams 1174). The Winfield’s are also quite a poor excuse for a family, thus the fire escape is

the perfect symbolic entrance to the apartment, it is as flawed and dysfunctional as the family

living inside the apartment. In addition, the fire escape is the farthest place Tom can go without

literally leaving the family (or deserting the family), which makes it a symbol of everything Tom

longs for outside the family. He longs for freedom and the fire escape represents freedom with

strings attached. In reality, Tom finally ends up with freedom but with strings attached when he

makes the choice to leave the family. Near the end of the play he cries, “Oh, Laura, Laura, I

tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” (Williams 1204). He

achieves his escape, but he can never totally let go of the sister he loves, and so, he is still tied to

the family, no matter how hard he tries to escape them and become his own man. Thus, his...
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