In the drama, The Glass Menagerie (1945), Tennesse
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In the drama, The Glass Menagerie (1945), Tennessee Williams reflects upon personal
experiences he and his family encountered during the Depression of the 1930’s. As a lower class
family, the characters are placed in the slums of St. Louis in 1935. The protagonist, Tom Wingfield,
is the narrator and Williams’ surrogate. Living with his mother and sister, Tom supports them by
working in a shoe manufacturing warehouse. He should feel lucky to have this job; however, he
despises his work and dreams of leaving to become a Merchant Marine. Unhappy with what life has
dealt him, Tom strives for adventure and longs to turn his back on his responsibilities. His mother,
Amanda Wingfield, abandoned by her husband almost sixteen years ago, tries to keep her family
together through tough times. Although her love and hopes for her children are sincere, her
overbearing and outspoken nature often hurts them. Laura, Tom’s sister, suffers from neuroses.
She has trouble separating fantasy from reality. Without the ability to function in the outside world,
Laura becomes a liability to both Tom and Amanda. The gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor, is a
friend of Tom’s from the warehouse. He is an ambitious young man, who strives for the American
Dream through hard work and optimism. Jim offers the Wingfields hope for the future:
Tom: He is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a
world of reality that we were somehow set apart from. But since I have a
poet’s weakness for symbols, I am using this character also as a symbol; he is the long-
delayed but always expected something that we live for (23).
Williams gives the reader many emblems throughout the play; there are three of them are especially
interesting. The unicorn symbolizes Laura’s uniqueness, the picture of Mr. Wingfield represents his
strong influence on his deserted family, and Malvolio’s coffin trick signifies Tom’s suffocating
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
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