“The Glass Menagerie” is a play written by Tennessee Williams and it is one of the most popular plays written by the author. The play is characterized by the stylistic richness and ample use of interesting stylistic devices and artistic details. Nonetheless, probably the most skilfully and efficiently Tennessee Williams uses symbolism. In fact, there are enough symbols to reveal the central theme of the play and show it to each main character, which constitutes Amanda’s family that is the focus of the author’s attention. Apparently, it is quite impressive to trace the symbols the author uses that can help to understand better and reveal the central theme of the book, the subject of the opposition of illusionary and real world.
First of all, it should be said a few words about the family that is the focus of the author’s attention. There is Amanda, a mother and the head of the family who has a son Tom and a daughter Laura, who is crippled. The main problem all of them face is that they live in the illusionary world which some of them, like Tom, wants to escape from while others, like Amanda and Laura, tend to remain and escape from reality.
From the beginning, Tennessee Williams manages to create a fascinating symbol of the world of Amanda’s family. This symbol may be found in the title of the play that a reader gets acquainted with later as he/she reads the book. The glass menagerie is a symbol of the illusionary world. In fact, this is the world created by Laura under the influence of her mother. It is Laura who attempts to escape from reality playing with the glass menagerie. It is evident that her main problem is communication with other people. She cannot just feel good in her relations with other people because of her handicap that she continually bears in her mind. She feels very uncomfortable in stressful situations that are particularly obvious when she must take a timed taping test in the business school or else when she is forced to face Jim O’Connor, a man who, as Amanda supposed, should marry Laura. In such situations, she gets very nervous and fearful that indicates at her severe inferiority complex about which Jim tells her directly: “You know what I judge to be the trouble with you? Inferiority complex. Know what that is? That’s what they call it when someone low-rates himself! I understand it because I had it too. Although my case was not so aggravated as yours seems to be”. And the only escape from the real world and her problems Laura finds in her glass menagerie, her illusionary world where she feels comfortable.
By the way, the glass menagerie also symbolizes the life of Amanda. To put it more precisely, it expresses her illusions she nourishes concerning her past, her life and her daughter. This glass world is like her own; it is as fake as her dreams are since she still loves her husband who deserted her and her children. And now she even believes or pretends that Laura is healthy and has no problems. Moreover, Amanda is convinced that Jim will marry Laura and her daughter will be happy and lead a healthy life.
Unfortunately, both women eventually face total disappointment when Jim O’Conner confess that he is engaged and is going to marry another girl. And it is at this moment when another symbol of Amanda and Laura illusions appears, the unicorn, a part of the glass menagerie. Accidence breaks it, and it symbolizes the break of Amanda and Laura hopes. Ironically, it is the moment when Laura seems to be as usual as probably never else in the play, and she cannot fail to compare the broken unicorn with herself. Laura, being a handicapped, is actually excluded from the society and is deprived of a possibility to lead a normal life exactly like the unicorn could not do because of his difference from other horses but as soon as it is broken it can “feel more at home with the other horses”, the opportunity Laura herself is unfortunately deprived of because she really cannot change her life somehow.
But if Laura feels she resembles the unicorn in her loneliness and isolation than for Amanda the broken unicorn symbolizes her shattered illusions. It is now evident that Jim will never marry her daughter that turns to be another failure of her hopes as used to be her love to her husband, her dreams for better. Symbolically, there remains the rest of the glass menagerie Laura can escape from reality as well as there undoubtedly are or will be more illusions Amanda’s mind generates.
By the way, the dinner when Jim comes is also characterized by the use of religious symbols. In fact, it should be said that it is possible to metaphorically compare Jim with a savior for both Amanda and Laura. It is not surprising that in such situations the surrounding things and the main characters are depicted in a religious light, and religious symbols are widely used. For instance, Laura “is lit inwardly with altar candles.”
However, if Amanda and Laura prefer to hide in their illusionary, invented world than Tom prefers to escape from it and the magic show becomes a symbol of such escape. In fact, this magic show is also a kind of illusion, but at the same time, it is preferably a sign which makes Tom even more convinced in his intention to escape from the world he lives in. Moreover, Tom compares Amanda’s house with the coffin he has seen during the show. It seems as if Malvolio appeals to Tom, gives him a piece of advice to escape from his home when the magician rises unscathed from the nailed coffin. And so he will do soon but before he shares his impressions and thoughts about all this with Laura: “but the most wonderful trick of all was the trick the coffin trick… there is a trick that would come in handy for me – give me out of this two by four situation”.
Probably, he does it intentionally in an attempt to rescue Laura from this illusionary world she lives with Amanda. At this respect, it is noteworthy that Laura also attempts to escape from their house, but he fails. For instance, she goes to the zoo instead of attending the college. It is also entirely a symbolic since getting used to the glass menagerie she cannot anymore change her life and herself and she seeks merely for another +zoo, even though it is real. Ironically enough she uses the same way to escape, the fire escape, which is a symbol of flight from Amanda’s world. Unfortunately, unlike Tom, she continually stumbles, and it is easy to foresee that she will never escape from this illusionary world of her share with her mother. At the same time, the escape of Tom from this world may symbolize that there is still a possible way out from the most challenging situations.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Tennessee Williams has managed to create a fascinating play full of symbols which contribute significantly to revealing the central theme of “The Glass Menagerie,” the idea of the opposition of the illusionary world vs. the cruel real world. Symbolically, the author showed that some people could leave their illusions and face reality while others seem to be destined to live in the invented world.
1. Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New York: McGraw Hill, 1998.
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