Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie, describes three separate characters, their dreams, and the harsh realities they face in a modern world. The Glass Menagerie exposes the lost dreams of a southern family and their desperate struggle to escape reality. Williams’ use of symbols adds depth to the play. The glass menagerie itself is a symbol Williams uses to represent the broken lives of Amanda, Laura and Tom Wingfield and their inability to live in the present.
The glass menagerie symbolizes Amanda Wingfield’s overwhelming need to cling to her past and her fulfilled fear of being alone. Amanda resents the poverty-stricken neighborhood in which she lives so much that she needs to mentally escape from it by invented romance and self-deception. Williams describes her as having “endurance and a kind of heroism, but she is also silly, snobbish, sometimes cruel and sometimes pathetic in her well-intentioned blundering”(Williams 1865). Abandoned by her husband, Amanda comforts herself with recollections of her earlier, more gracious, southern life in Blue Mountain when she was pursued by “gentleman callers”. Amanda is desperate to find her daughter, Laura, a husband, the kind of gentleman caller that she herself longed for, who would not have deserted her. “Well, in the South we had so many servants. Gone, gone, gone. All vestiges of gracious living! Gone completely! I wasn’t prepared for what the future brought me.” (Williams 1893). She foists her illusions on her unwilling children, lives in the past with pretensions to glory.
Laura’s collection of glass animals represents her hypersensitive nature and fragility. The glass menagerie is …
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…tle glass animals came to represent in my memory all the softest emotions that belong to the recollection of things past. They stood for all the tender things that relieve”(Williams 64). They retreat into their own separate worlds to escape the harshness of life. Amanda, Laura, and Tom are incapable of living in the present. Mirroring the social and economic despair in the U.S., The Glass Menagerie is nostalgia for a past world and its evocation of loneliness and lost love, which celebrates, above all, the human need to dream.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Crandall, George. The Critical Response to Tennessee Williams. Westport: Greenwood, 1996.
Martin, Robert. Critical Essays on Tennessee Williams (Critical Essays on American Literature). New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Williams, Tennessee. “The Glass Menagerie”. New York: Random House, 1985.
Essay on the Use of Symbols, Tensions, and Irony in The Glass Menagerie
Use of Symbols, Tensions, and Irony in The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, is a perfect example of how Williams incorporates symbols, tensions, and irony to help express the central theme of the play.
One of the most dominant symbols in the play is the fire escape. It represents something different for each of the characters. Tom uses the fire escape to escape from his cramped apartment and nagging mother. Therefore, the fire escape symbolizes a path to the outside world. For Jim, the gentleman caller, the fire escape represents a means of entering the Wingfield apartment and by doing so, entering the Wingfields’ lives. The mother, Amanda, sees the fire escape as a possible entrance for Jim into the apartment and as an answer to the fear she has of her daughter becoming a spinster. Lastly, for Laura, the fire escape represents a place she can go to hide from the real world.
The glass menagerie itself is another symbol. It represents how fragile, sensitive, and unique Laura is. Laura’s prize piece is the unicorn, which Jim bumps into and brakes. After the unicorn is broken, it is no longer unique. Just as after Jim kisses Laura and tells her of his engagement to be married, she becomes both heart-broken and a little less unique. In this area, Jim represents the outside world. When the unicorn and Laura are exposed to Jim (or the outside world) they break. By Laura giving Jim the broken unicorn, she is also giving him her broken heart to take with him. She gives him the broken unicorn because it is no longer unique, and to her neither is Jim. Likewise, when Jim leaves, he will also leave behind a little of himself in Laura’s broken heart.
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…ls Laura that he’s engaged. This confirms that Laura will be unable to fulfill her dream.
It appears that each time a character thinks he or she is moving forward, he or she has the reality of moving backwards. The characters never give up trying, but still no one can move forward from the Wingfields’ world. Not even Tom can escape, and he has already left.
The Glass Menagerie is indeed a perfect example of how Williams incorporates symbols, tensions, and irony to help express the central theme of the play.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Kahn, Sy. Modern American Drama: Essays in Criticism. Edited by Willima E. Taylor. Deland, Florida. Everette/Edwards Inc., 1968. 71-88
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Writing, Thinking. 5th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford, 1999.