Symbolism in The Glass Menagerie


23 Mar 2015 15 May 2015

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The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams is a short play that uses a large variety of symbolization throughout to describe the emotional, physical and social state of each of its characters. Laura is a very fragile young woman that lives in a lower class, shabby apartment with her older brother Tom, and her eccentric mother Amanda. Laura feels as though she is an outcast in contrast to the rest of the world. Among the many recurrent themes of this play the fragility is shown in a little unicorn that safely exists within a glass menagerie. There are other less prominent symbols such as the colors of a rainbow, blue roses, and the exit, and entrance to the apartment.

Laura's glass menagerie is an important symbol. Laura does not want to be involved with the world outside this “dark, grim” apartment that she lives in with her mother, a “proud, vivacious woman, Amanda,” and her brother “Tom, an aspiring poet, and shoe warehouseman.” ( She prefers the comfort of her “transparent glass animals” (478). Laura would rather spend time with her tiny glass horses and unicorn figurine, listening to her old records. She would prefer to do this all day rather than having any contact with other people.

One of the clearest symbolic uses of the glass figurines happens at a point in the story when Laura and Jim are left by themselves. Laura makes the statement “You should always take good care of your glass.” (510) Again, we see the symbolism of the glass unicorn and the fragility of Laura. Laura is very shy and innocent, very much like the glass figurines she cleans throughout the day. All though it is very fragile, much like Laura herself, the glass shines and glistens, magnifying many colors of the rainbow in the light.

The glass unicorn is obviously the most symbolic of Laura! Reading between the lines as Jim and Laura are talking, it is easy to see that the unicorn represents Laura's unusually different, delicate, and uncomfortablenss in the normal world. Jim makes the statement. “Poor little fellow, he must feel sort of lonesome”. It is obvious that Laura has felt lonesome most of her life, and Laura replies “the unicorn sits on a shelf with some normal horses that do not have any horns, and they all seem to get along nicely together.” (p512)

During Jim and Laura's short romantic encounter, for a moment, Laura is feeling more confidence. It's as if she is beginning to feel a little normal like her horses. When Jim accidently knocks the glass unicorn to the floor, and breaks the horn off. “The unicorn has lost its horn. It doesn't really matter. It may be a blessing in disguise.” Laura states, and “I will just imagine that it has had some kind of operation.” And “with the horn removed he may feel less freakish! Now he might feel more like he is one of the horses, the ones without any horns”. (p513)

For a moment Laura is happy and uplifted. She begins to smile and feel the tension of uniqueness lifting from her. Jim sees this and starts dancing around with her, and eventually kisses her. All of this gives us the slight impression that Laura may finally be escaping the illusive world in which she has lived for most of her life. Laura is for a moment, starting to feel more accepted, especially from Jim. For a moment she is feeling less conscious about her physical disabilities. She starts to open up just a little bit.

It's not long after all of this that Jim tells Laura of his engagement to another woman. Laura is broken. She is broken inside, and no longer feels the same uniqueness that she once felt with the glass unicorn. She looks at Jim, and tells him to take the unicorn. It's as if she has let go of something inside. Past dream like memories of a love that she once had for Jim, have now been lost in the reality of Jims words. Laura has spent many years polishing, and taking care of her glass menagerie, and keeping her unicorn safe from the outside world. But, now it has been exposed, and in turn it has been broken, just as Laura has been broken. The dream of maybe, some day having love from a man, and being normal has now been replaced with a broken heart, and a withdrawn sadness.

As the introverted and shy Laura is lost even further in to herself. We begin to see a glimpse of the symbolisms in the use of the rainbow and its colors. But it is less obvious than that of the glass unicorn. The rainbow signifies that there may be some hope in the future. Tom gives Laura a glimpse of hope, “Laura is overwhelmed with emotions when Tom pulls out the rainbow-colored scarf and tells the story of how a magician changed a bowl of little fish into canaries. Towards the end of the play, Tom reflects on Laura as he gazes at some broken colored glass, and imagines his shattered sister Laura and her broken spirit”.( Tom wishes in the symbolic sense that he could blow out the candles of his sister's despair. He also reflects on how Laura would spend hours polishing her glass animals, keeping them safe from the rest of the world.

There is sad irony in Tennessee Williams play when you think about the symbolism of the rainbow. Although rainbows seem to be positive, bright, and hopeful signs that a new day is coming soon, there is usually much pain that must be endured before that time, if it ever comes.

There is quite an array of symbolism that helps to form the character of Laura. Tennessee Williams uses the color of blue in Jim's nickname for Laura. Like the rose, Laura is fragile, and like the color blue, she is shy, innocent, and very sad.

Works Cited

Fambrough, Preston. "William's The Glass Menagerie." Explicator 63.2 (Winter 2005): 100-102. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Northwestern State U, Watson Lib, Leesville, LA. 17 Mar. 2008 <>.

Reese, Jennifer. "The Glass Menagerie." Entertainment Weekly (28 Apr. 2006): 143-143. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Northwestern State U, Watson Lib., Leesville, LA. 17 Mar. 2008 <>.

Williams, Tennessee. “The Glass Menagerie” Literature for Composition: Writing Arguments about Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama ed. by Sylvia Barnet, William Burto and William E. Cain…8th Ed New York. 2007: 499-519.


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