Crushed Dreams in The Glass Menagerie
Tennessee Williams is known for his use of symbols, tension, and irony. Williams uses all of these components to express the central theme of The Glass Menagerie - hope followed by despair. Each of the characters has dreams that are destroyed by the harsh realities of the world.
As the narrator blatantly admits, 'since I have a poet's weakness for symbols', symbols are central to The Glass Menagerie (Williams 30). Symbols are merely concrete substitutions used to express a particular theme, idea, or character. One major symbol is the fire escape which has a separate function for each of the characters. This fire escape provides a means of escape for Tom from his cramped apartment and nagging mother. Therefore, the fire escape for him represents a path to the outside world. For the gentleman caller, the fire escape provides the means through which Jim can enter the Wingfield apartment, thus entering their lives. For Amanda, the fire escape allows Jim to come into the apartment and prevent Laura from becoming a spinster. The significance of the fire escape for Laura is that it is her door to the inside world in which she can hide. It is ironic that when Laura does leave the security of her apartment, she falls. This symbolises Laura's inability to function properly in the outside world.
Another recurring symbol is the glass menagerie which represents Laura's hypersensitive nature and fragility. Laura is just as easily broken as a glass unicorn - and just as unique. When Jim accidentally bumps into the unicorn and breaks it, the unicorn is no longer unique. Likewise, when Jim kisses Laura and then shatters her hopes by telling her he's engaged, she becomes broken-hearted and less unique. Part of the innocence which made Laura so unique is now lost. Both Laura and her glass menagerie break when they are exposed to the outside world, represented by Jim. When Laura gives Jim her broken unicorn, it symbolises her broken heart that Jim will take with him when he leaves. The unicorn is no longer unique like her, rather he is common now - more like Jim. Therefore, she gives the unicorn to Jim. Just as she gives Jim a little bit of herself to take with him, he leaves behind a little bit of himself with her shattered hopes.
Another recurrent symbol used throughout The Glass Menagerie is the use of rainbows. Rainbows symbolise hope and each mention of rainbows in the play is associated with a hopeful situation. When Tom talks about his rainbow-coloured scarf that he got at the magic show, he talks about how it changed a bowl of goldfish into flying canaries. Just like the canaries, Tom hopes to fly away too - to escape from his imprisonment. The chandeliers which create rainbow reflections at the Dance Hall foreshadow the dance between Jim and Laura which instils hope within her. At the end when Tom looks at 'pieces of coloured glass, like...