The Symbolism of the Menagerie in The Glass Menagerie
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 her private world, set apart from reality, a place where she can hide and be safe. The first time the menagerie is mentioned in any detail in a symbolic manner is when Tom and Amanda have a heated argument near the beginning of the play. Tom ends the argument by calling Amanda an "ugly- babbling old -witch"(Williams 1875), and struggles to put his coat on, intent on leaving. When he cannot put the coat on properly, he becomes frustrated with his clumsiness and flings it across the room, breaking some of the glass collection. Laura "cries out as if wounded"(Williams 1875). This shows how fragile Laura really is and how she reacts when even the small balance of her apartment is shifted. The most prominent use of this symbol comes at the crisis of the story, when Jim is left alone with Laura. The conversation turns to Laura's glass collection, when she remarks "glass is something you have to take good care of."(Williams 1900), again showing her fragility. More parallels are drawn between Laura and the glass collection with the introduction of the unicorn. Jim says, "Poor little fellow, he must feel sort of lonesome"(Williams 1902) to which Laura replies, " He stays on a shelf with some horses that don't have horns...