The play The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, Williams
uses many symbols which represent many different things. Many of the
symbols used in the play try to symbolize some form of escape or
difference between reality and illusion.
The first symbol, presented in the first scene, is the fire
escape. This represents the “bridge” between the illusory world of the
Wingfields and the world of reality. This “bridge” seems to be a one
way passage. But the direction varies for each character. For Tom, the
fire escape is the way out of the world of Amanda and Laura and an
entrance into the world of reality. For Laura, the fire escape is a
way into her world. A way to escape from reality. Both examples can
readily be seen: Tom will stand outside on the fire escape to smoke,
showing that he does not like to be inside, to be a part of the
illusionary world. Laura, on the other hand, thinks of the fire escape
as a way in and not a way out. This can be seen when Amanda sends
Laura to go to the store: Laura trips on the fire escape. This also
shows that Laura’s fears and emotions greatly affect her physical
condition, more so than normal people.
Another symbol presented deals more with Tom than any of the
other characters: Tom’s habit of going to the movies shows us his
longing to leave the apartment and head out into the world of reality.
A place where one can find adventure. And Tom, being a poet, can
understand the needs of man to long for adventure and romance. But he
is kept from entering reality by Amanda, who criticizes him as being a
“selfish dreamer.” But, Tom has made steps to escape into reality by
transferring the payment of a light bill to pay for his dues in the
Another symbol, which deals with both Amanda and Laura, is Jim
O’Connor. To Laura, Jim represents the one thing she fears and does
not want to face, reality. Jim is a perfect example of “the common
man.” A person with no real outstanding quality. In fact, Jim is
rather awkward, which can be seen when he dances with Laura. To
Amanda, Jim represents the days of her youth, when she went frolicking
about picking jonquils and supposedly having “seventeen gentlemen
callers on one Sunday afternoon.” Although Amanda desires to see Laura
settled down with a nice young man, it is hard to tell whether she
wanted a gentleman caller to be invited for Laura or for herself.
One symbol which is rather obvious is Laura’s glass menagerie.
Her collection of glass represents her own private world. Set apart
from reality, a place where she can hide and be safe. The events that
happen to Laura’s glass affects Laura’s emotional state greatly. When
Amanda tells Laura to practice typing, Laura instead plays with her
glass. When Amanda is heard walking up the fire escape, she quickly
hides her collection. She does this to hide her secret world from the
others. When Tom leaves to go to the movies in an angered rush, he
accidentally breaks some of Laura’s glass. The shattered glass
represents Laura’s understanding of Tom’s responsibilities to her.
Also, the unicorn, which is important, represents Laura directly.
Laura points out to Jim that the unicorn is different, just as she is
different. She also points out that the unicorn does not complain of
being different, as she does not complain either. And when Jim breaks
the horn off the unicorn, Laura points out that now it is like the
other horses, just as Laura has shed some of her shyness and become
more normal. When she hands the broken unicorn to Jim, this might
represent Laura handing over her broken love to Jim, as Jim has
revealed that he is engaged to be married.
As can be seen, there are quite a few symbols in this play. And a
number of them have diverse meanings. Most of these symbols have a
direct meaning in the author’s own life. This is understandable seeing
that the play is supposed to be “memory play.” It is obvious that this
memory play is based on Williams’ own memories.