Symbolism is a major aspect in Tennessee William’s famous play, The Glass Menagerie. On the surface, the short slice of life story seems to be simple. However, if the reader digs deeper they will find that there are several symbols that give the play a deeper meaning. Each character defines each symbol in a different way. There are some very noticeable symbols that can be analyzed when studying The Glass Menagerie. The first is the actual glass menagerie that represents the fragility of the Wingfield’s dreamlike existence. The second is the fire escape, which reflects each character’s tendency to escape from reality in their own ways. The third is the yellow dress, which represents youth and the past.
The actual animal collection, or glass menagerie, symbolizes each character in the story. Like the glass animals, the characters’ realities are very fragile and in danger of being shattered. It is also as though the characters are stuck in glass, unable to move or change, also like the glass animals. They are inanimate, as the characters have learned to be to hide and escape from the pain that life has given them. Laura loves the glass animals because her family is like them. It will not take much, like Tom leaving, to shatter their whole world.
Laura is symbolized by her fragile collection of glass animals, the glass menagerie. Her favorite animal is the unique unicorn. The unicorn is different because it has a horn. When Laura was in high school, she wore a brace. The unicorn and Laura are alike in this way. When Jim dances with Laura, he knocks over the unicorn and the horn breaks off. Now it is like all of the other horses. The unicorn losing its horn is a symbol. The unicorn in its original state symbolizes something different. It is delicate, beautiful, and precious in it’s own unique way. This could symbolize Laura has natural beauty in an unearthly way that is hidden by her shyness and limp. When Laura starts to talk to Jim, she gets more confidence in herself and realizes that she is not that different from everyone else in the world. The horn symbolizes a difference, an obstacle to be overcome and admired.
The fire escape is a major symbol in this play. It represents a different symbol for each character. For Amanda, the fire escape is a way for her to be protected from the outside world, or reality. She cannot live in the present, and the lack of a front door makes it easy for her to avoid real life. She convinces herself that she isn’t capable of leaving the safe haven she has created by locking herself inside the strange apartment. She has become trapped by her memories. Laura uses the fire escape as a symbol in a similar way. She, too, is protected from the outside world by the fire escape, and she is also limited by it because of her handicap. It will require an extra effort for Laura to overcome her limp and get out into the world using the fire escape, symbolizing how her life is more difficult because of her handicap and her delusional mother. Tom uses the fire escape as an escape to the outside world. He cannot live in the depressed delusions of his mother and sister’s reality, so he goes out the fire escape to work, and to the movies. He even succeeds in bringing in a possible replacement for him, someone else to take care of his helpless family members, when he brings Jim O’Connor into the apartment.
The yellow dress that Amanda insists on wearing when Jim comes over symbolizes her desperate attempt to live in the past when she was young. The yellow and blue silk frock is a symbol of her youth and of the times in her life when she was happy. She wore it when she won the cakewalk twice at Sunset Hill, and she wore it at the Governor’s Ball in Jackson. This reminds her of happier times when she didn’t have to worry about being a single mother with few skills to raise a family on her own.