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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Fire Escape in The Glass Menagerie
Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie is replete with symbolism, and the fire escape is an important symbol in the play.
Leading out of the protagonists’ – the Wingfield’s – apartment, is the fire escape that has a landing. This physical structure represents an escape from the dysfunction and the fires of frustration in the Wingfield household. Tom makes his opening address to the audience from the fire escape.
Different characters see the fire escape in different ways. For Tom, the fire escape is a golden chance to get away from his nagging mother. For Amanda it is a door through which gentleman callers for Laura can come. For it is a pathway towards the unknown and the dangerous.
The fire escape in The Glass Menagerie serves two functions. One is as a tool for characterization, and the other is as a symbol for a central theme of the play, which is “escape.”
Characterization in the play is brilliantly done by means of the contrast between the two central characters: Laura and Tom. Laura, who is symbolized as the fragile glass menagerie, stumbles on the fire escape, signaling her inability to escape her life circumstances. She is helpless and fragile to the point of being unable to use an escape route. Herman (2008) suggests that Laura has a disability, which makes her socially unsuccessful and shy. This is compounded by the fact that her mother Amanda is overprotective and smothering.
Tom, on the other hand, has the will and the ability to escape from the dysfunctional family, and he often steps out on to the fire escape landing to light a smoke. His independent streak is very well demonstrated by his frequent trips to the fire escape landing. As a natural culmination of his yearning to be independent, he stands on the fire escape landing at the end of the play, ready to go out into the world and escape from the world of the glass menagerie.
The fire escape is integral to the theme of escape too in the play. Escape or the inability to escape, is a theme of The Glass Menagerie. When there is a means of escape available, do people make use of it? Alternatively, do people get caught in their own life so much that they lose the will and the ability to escape? For Laura, escape is impossible, as the only time she tries the fire escape, she stumbles. Tom, however, wants to and is able to escape. He shows that many times by moving to the fire escape landing for a smoke, and finally at the end of the play by deciding to move away from the family.
The Glass Menagerie examines the universal conflict that arises when individuals must choose between self-fulfillment and family commitment (Janardanan, 2007). The fire escape in the play is the symbol of a path to self-fulfillment, which in the end, Tom takes, though he can never really forget his mother and sister.
Herman, Terah, (2008). The Disabled Family Dynamic In Drama: The Glass Menagerie, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg And Time For Ben. University of Kentucky Master’s Theses. Paper 528. http://uknowledge.uky.edu/gradschool_theses/528
Janardanan, D. (2007). Images of Loss in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Marsha Norman’s night, Mother, and Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive. Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2007. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/english_diss/23
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