Essay/Term paper: Symbolism in the glass menagerie
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Symbolism in The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie uses an extensive pattern of symbolism that describes the characters of
Tom,Amanda,Laura and Jim.Glass,light,color and music constitute the substance of the dominant
symbols and motifs,serving to reveal deeper aspects of characters and underlying themes of the
play.Tennessee Williams wrote the play so that each character had a special symbol which resembled
their personality.But he didn't only give the characters of the play a a resembling symbol;he also
mentions the apartment blocks to be hivelike conglomerations of cellular living-units resembling a
beenstock.The way he describes their location also has a lot of symbolism in its roots because he
describes them to be flowering as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers.
Tennessee Williams used many symbolic aspects to describe Laura and the world she lives
in.In the play,Laura represents the very fragile,shy and emotionally crippled girl.In her mind she lives
in a world of glass animals and doesn't have a connection to the real world.The managerie of glass also
represents the fragile relationships among all the characters.The glass unicorn is most obviously a
symbol of Laura--delicate,sadly different,an anomaly in the modern world.The glass motif recurs
throughout the whole play in many other forms.When Laura dropped out of college she constantly
visited the zoo,a glass house of tropical flowers that are as vulnerable as she is.During Laura's and
Jim's brief romantic encounter,Laura is gaining more confidence about herself.It seems as if she is
starting to escape her
world of illusions.When they started dancing together,Jim accidently knocked the little glass horse
over.Laura,who usually worships her glass collection more than anything else,replied to his
excuse;"He's lost his horn.It doesn't matter.Maybe it's a blessing in disguise." and "I'll just imagine he
had an operation.The horn was removed to make him feel less--freakish!Now he will feel more at
home with the other horses,the ones who don't have horns....".These two quotes give an impression
that Laura is finally escaping her illusive world.She thinks that she might have a chance to survive the
real world.What she doesn't know is that she is about to be wounded by the news of Jim's
engagement.After Jim tells her the news,she gives him the unicorn as a souvenir and retreats into her
land of the glass menagerie never to come out again.
In the play,Tom is the adventure seeking man trying to escape the prison Amanda is keeping
him trapped in.To escape the real world,Tom constantly goes to the movies.The movies make him
think about all the adventures he missing.It his little land of dreams.He is jealous of his father who left
his family and achieved what Tom always wanted, "Freedom".Tom has never been comfortable with
the way his mother treated him.She always disagreed with the way Tom behaved.When Amanda put
him down after Jim left,saying that he didn't even know that his friend was engaged and that Jim broke
Laura's heart,Tom finally had enough.He took the money that was meant to pay for the electric bill,left
the family and finally pursued his dream of adventure.Still,when he crosses by a window with little
perfume bottles made of glass or other small things made of this material,he thinks of Laura.
Amanda,who is the domineering parent of Tom and Laura,lives in a fantasy world in which
she was a young beautiful girl,living in an area called Blue Mountain.She always told Laura and Tom
about the many gentleman callers she received every day.Sometimes there were as many as seventeen
a day,all prominent men on the Mississippi Delta.To make some extra money she sells The
Homemaker's Companion that features the serialized sublimations of ladies of letters who think in
terms of delicate cuplike breasts,slim,tapering waists ,and rich and creamy thighs.Those are all parts of
her fantasy world which make her think back to the time when she was a young and beautiful girl.She
also is the domineering parent in the family.She treats Tom very harsh sometimes.She does that
because she is scared that she is going to lose her children just like she did her husband.
Jim is the most realistic character in the play.He is didn't live in any fantasy world like Tom
and his family did.When he talked to Laura after they had dinner,he tried to make her more
comfortable because he felt that Laura was very shy.He showed Laura how superior he is in order to
impress her.For example,he said,"Look how big my shadow is when I stretch."He wanted to show
Laura how manly he is.Jim's nickname for Laura ,Blue Roses,suggests a phenomenon that is contrary
to nature.Blue also means sad.
The symbolism in the play The Glass Menagerie made the story much more interesting.It gave
the play a special point which made it more interesting to read.Tenessee Williams used a wide range of
symbolic aspects to describe Laura,Amanda,Jim,and Tom who are four out of the five characters in the
play.Symbolism is sometimes very important in plays,stories,etc. because it tells us about the secrets
which are hidden inside.
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The plot of The Glass Menagerie is a three-fold conflict. The first involves Tom, who is thrown into a job he doesn't like because the family has been abandoned by the father and Tom was the only one who could support the family, which consists of the mother Amanda and his sister Laura, who has a brace on her leg. Tom has to decide between his mother and sister and his own life and aspirations. The second involves Amanda who is tragically always remembering her past happy life as proof to herself and her children that she was not deserving of having been abandoned by the one man, out of "seventeen gentleman callers," to whom she gave her affection. She must find a way to make her son's life and daughter's life a successful ones when drunkeness, poverty, shyness, illness and disability weigh against it. The third involves Laura who is troubled by pathological shyness and feelings of unworthiness that stem from natural timidity, illness and the brace on her leg. She must decide whether or not to make a place for herself in the world.
Amanda tries to work with the few resources left to her to help mold a successful future for her two children. One of her resources is her son's ability to work and earn money for the family, a role he bitterly resents. Laura has been sent to secretarial school but, in the fear of extreme shyness, has long ago dropped out. Amanda once again relies on her son to help the abandoned family by finding Laura a potential suitor from work. Tom does so and brings Jim home to a lavish dinner prepared at great expense by Amanda. Laura recoils from meeting Jim because they had known each other in high school and she had had a crush on him. Eventually, she is forced to converse with him just as the lights go out from an unpaid electric bill, the money for which Tom had diverted to the fees for joining the merchant marine in order to escape his life. Jim and Laura have sincere talks about her unrecognized charms and talents; he accidentally breaks the magical, fantasy unicorn while dancing with Laura; then kisses her. In guilty regret he confesses that he has wronged her because he has a fiancee.
In the end, the glass menagerie, Laura's ideal symbolic of a happy life like the one in her mother's stories, is damaged twice, first accidentally by Tom and second by Laura's first "gentleman caller," Jim, who turns out to be engaged. Laura's reaction to the unicorn broken by Jim is that now it is just a regular horse. Tom abandons his mother and sister to an unpaid electric bill and goes in pursuit of his own happiness, though his happiness is never sufficient to be able to dispel the cloud of regret and guilt over Laura, nor is it sufficient to be able to allow him to understand his bitter foolishness or his mother's struggles any better. Laura has an epiphany moment and becomes like her unicorn, just a regular girl. The mother, Amanda, can at least feel comfortable with her daughter's prospects though they still don't see eye-to-eye. Of the three, Amanda is the only one who moves into the future with sorrow because her share in the broken glass menagerie is regret for the lost unicorn though her feelings of sorrow and regret are mixed with comfort for her children's future well-being.