The Glass Menagerie Essay Symbolism Examples
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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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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Difficulty of Accepting Reality
Among the most prominent and urgent themes of The Glass Menagerie is the difficulty the characters have in accepting and relating to reality. Each member of the Wingfield family is unable to overcome this difficulty, and each, as a result, withdraws into a private world of illusion where he or she finds the comfort and meaning that the real world does not seem to offer. Of the three Wingfields, reality has by far the weakest grasp on Laura. The private world in which she lives is populated by glass animals—objects that, like Laura’s inner life, are incredibly fanciful and dangerously delicate. Unlike his sister, Tom is capable of functioning in the real world, as we see in his holding down a job and talking to strangers. But, in the end, he has no more motivation than Laura does to pursue professional success, romantic relationships, or even ordinary friendships, and he prefers to retreat into the fantasies provided by literature and movies and the stupor provided by drunkenness. Amanda’s relationship to reality is the most complicated in the play. Unlike her children, she is partial to real-world values and longs for social and financial success. Yet her attachment to these values is exactly what prevents her from perceiving a number of truths about her life. She cannot accept that she is or should be anything other than the pampered belle she was brought up to be, that Laura is peculiar, that Tom is not a budding businessman, and that she herself might be in some ways responsible for the sorrows and flaws of her children. Amanda’s retreat into illusion is in many ways more pathetic than her children’s, because it is not a willful imaginative construction but a wistful distortion of reality.
Although the Wingfields are distinguished and bound together by the weak relationships they maintain with reality, the illusions to which they succumb are not merely familial quirks. The outside world is just as susceptible to illusion as the Wingfields. The young people at the Paradise Dance Hall waltz under the short-lived illusion created by a glass ball—another version of Laura’s glass animals. Tom opines to Jim that the other viewers at the movies he attends are substituting on-screen adventure for real-life adventure, finding fulfillment in illusion rather than real life. Even Jim, who represents the “world of reality,” is banking his future on public speaking and the television and radio industries—all of which are means for the creation of illusions and the persuasion of others that these illusions are true. The Glass Menagerie identifies the conquest of reality by illusion as a huge and growing aspect of the human condition in its time.
The Impossibility of True Escape
At the beginning of Scene Four, Tom regales Laura with an account of a magic show in which the magician managed to escape from a nailed-up coffin. Clearly, Tom views his life with his family and at the warehouse as a kind of coffin—cramped, suffocating, and morbid—in which he is unfairly confined. The promise of escape, represented by Tom’s missing father, the Merchant Marine Service, and the fire escape outside the apartment, haunts Tom from the beginning of the play, and in the end, he does choose to free himself from the confinement of his life.
The play takes an ambiguous attitude toward the moral implications and even the effectiveness of Tom’s escape. As an able-bodied young man, he is locked into his life not by exterior factors but by emotional ones—by his loyalty to and possibly even love for Laura and Amanda. Escape for Tom means the suppression and denial of these emotions in himself, and it means doing great harm to his mother and sister. The magician is able to emerge from his coffin without upsetting a single nail, but the human nails that bind Tom to his home will certainly be upset by his departure. One cannot say for certain that leaving home even means true escape for Tom. As far as he might wander from home, something still “pursue[s]” him. Like a jailbreak, Tom’s escape leads him not to freedom but to the life of a fugitive.
The Unrelenting Power of Memory
According to Tom, The Glass Menagerie is a memory play—both its style and its content are shaped and inspired by memory. As Tom himself states clearly, the play’s lack of realism, its high drama, its overblown and too-perfect symbolism, and even its frequent use of music are all due to its origins in memory. Most fictional works are products of the imagination that must convince their audience that they are something else by being realistic. A play drawn from memory, however, is a product of real experience and hence does not need to drape itself in the conventions of realism in order to seem real. The creator can cloak his or her true story in unlimited layers of melodrama and unlikely metaphor while still remaining confident of its substance and reality. Tom—and Tennessee Williams—take full advantage of this privilege.
The story that the play tells is told because of the inflexible grip it has on the narrator’s memory. Thus, the fact that the play exists at all is a testament to the power that memory can exert on people’s lives and consciousness. Indeed, Williams writes in the Production Notes that “nostalgia . . . is the first condition of the play.” The narrator, Tom, is not the only character haunted by his memories. Amanda too lives in constant pursuit of her bygone youth, and old records from her childhood are almost as important to Laura as her glass animals. For these characters, memory is a crippling force that prevents them from finding happiness in the present or the offerings of the future. But it is also the vital force for Tom, prompting him to the act of creation that culminates in the achievement of the play.
More main ideas from The Glass Menagerie