Symbols and Symbolism in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie illustrates how Tennessee Williams incorporates symbols to help express the central theme of the play. One of the recurring symbols, apparent throughout the play, is that of the "glass menagerie" - symbolic of Laura herself. Another symbol for Laura is the glass unicorn. Still another symbol is that of the picture of the father - symbolic of freedom. These symbols play an important part in the development of the plot, as well as the theme of the play.
The glass figurines that reside in Laura's menagerie are symbolic of Laura herself. Laura is "like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf" (849).
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The unicorn as a symbol for Laura is found in Scene 7. Here a "gentleman caller" has brought Laura out of her shell with nothing more than a few kind words and a little attention. In the course of conversation, Laura mentions her glass collection and proceeds to show Jim, the gentleman caller, her oldest figurine. This figurine, a unicorn, is symbolic of Laura herself. Because of one minor aspect, the unicorn's horn and Laura's defect, both Laura and the unicorn deviate from the norm. As Laura places the unicorn in Jim's hands, it is as if Laura is placing herself, and her self image, in his hands as well. Laura could as well have been referring to herself when she says, "Oh, be careful--if you breathe, it breaks" (867). Later in the same scene, Laura is enticed into a dance with Jim. As the two of them dance, the table upon which the unicorn rests is bumped, the unicorn falls to the floor, and the horn breaks off. This breaking of the figurine is symbolic of, and foreshadows the breaking of Laura herself by Jim. Still another way in which the unicorn is symbolic of Laura is that Jim causes both the unicorn, by the breaking of the horn, and Laura, by bringing her out of her shell, to feel normal. After Laura finds Jim is engaged, she gives the unicorn, now made normal by the breaking off of the horn, and symbolically her self, now made to feel normal by his overlooking the defect, to Jim.
Another symbol in this play is the picture of the