Three Important Symbols in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
In Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, the narrator is used to reveal elements of Williams' own life as a victim of the Depression in the 1930s. Williams does this through his eloquent use of symbolism. Three symbols seem to reveal Williams' intent especially accurately; the unicorn, the picture of Mr. Wingfield, and Malvolio's coffin trick.
The unicorn is a symbolic representation of ways that Laura is unique or unusual. The first facet of the unicorn, its horn, refers to ways that Laura is an unusual person, such as in her may escape mechanisms. Laura's escape devices include her glass menagerie, listening to records on the Victrola, and visiting the park and zoo. Laura identifies with her glass menagerie because she has trouble identifying with the real world, the pieces are small and delicate, just as she is. The Victrola is a reminder of Mr. Wingfield; Laura often plays records to avoid the present and thinks pleasantly about the times she had with her father. When Laura stopped going to Rubicam's Business College, she would spend many of her days at the zoo or park. She was a nature lover and thought of these places as very peaceful and beautiful, a sharp contrast to her real life. The fragility of the unicorn, its second part, recalls Laura's delicate psychological condition. Laura's emotional problems caused many difficulties in her life.
While in high school, Laura was very self-conscious about the brace she had to wear, as evidenced in the following passage:
Laura: I had that brace on my leg -- it clumped so loud!
Jim: I never heard any clumping.
Laura: To me it sounded like -- thunder!
Jim: Well, well, well, I never even noticed.
Laura: And everybody was seated before I came in. I had to walk in front of
all those people. My seat was in the back row. I had to go clumping all
the way up the aisle with everyone watching!
Jim: You shouldn't have been self-conscious.
Laura: I know, but I was (93).
Laura suffered all the way through high school. Unfortunately, she scored poorly on her final examinations and dropped out of school. After such a failure, her fragile self-esteem dropped from low to almost non-existent, and she could not face going back. Six years later, with pressure from her mother, Laura took another stab at education. She enrolled at Rubicam's Business College. However, Laura only made it to the first test. As the test began, she vomited on the floor and had to be carried to the bathroom. Laura never returned to school, and once again her fragile emotions got the best of her. The transparency of the unicorn, its final facet, represents the fact that Laura's problems are easily apparent to anyone who cares to notice them. This is best seen through Jim's evaluation of her:
Jim: You know what I judge to be the trouble...