"The Glass Menagerie" essay

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The Glass Menagerie is a memory play authored by Tennessee Williams who pens down a recollection of his crippled sister Laura and his mother Amanda. The setting of this play is in alley in St. Louis where the Wingfield’s live in a lower-class apartment struggling to beat the odds of codependency and poverty in order to survive after they had been forsaken by their father. Amanda struggles to find a suitor for Laura who is too shy for life and even goes to the extent of enrolling her for business classes just so she can woo a man into a relationship. Furthermore, she also instructs Tom to help find a suitor for Laura. Towards the end of the play, Tom invites his work acquaintance, Jim, for dinner at their house. However, he is not aware that Jim had been Laura’s secret crush during high school and that Jim has a fiancé. Later after having dinner and a dance with Laura, Jim lays bare the status quo to Laura leaving her crushed and disappointed. Consequently, Amanda gets at Tom with a quarrel for wasting their time and resources for the occasion, ignorant of the fact that even Tom was unaware of Jim’s engagement. As a result, Tom leaves the family and goes his way. At the onset of the play, Tom writes a special note to Laura casting the spotlight on her as the focus of the play. This paper thus will take an analytical look at Laura, Tom’s crippled sister.

Laura as has been noted above is emotionally and physically crippled due to a childhood illness and lives in a world of fantasies making her fragile and detached from the world of realism. Notwithstanding the burdens she carries, Laura is very compassionate and concerned about the welfare of other characters as she expresses them by crying

Amanda: … [Laura] notices things and I think she broods about them. A few days ago I came in and she was crying

Tom: What about?

Amanda: You… She has an idea that you’re not happy here (Williams, 1945, p. 762)

The Glass Menagerie is composed of symbols most of which figuratively point to some aspects of Laura’s life. The glass menagerie which is the play’s main symbol for instance, brings out different facets of Laura’s personality. That Laura is fanciful, old fashioned and delicate is brought out by the glass animal figurines and the phonograph in her possession

Amanda: So what are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by? Amuse ourselves with the glass menagerie, darling? Eternally play those worn out phonograph records your father left as a painful reminder of him? (Williams, 1945, p. 757)

On focusing some light through transparent glass at an angle, rainbow colors are refracted. In the same vein, even though Laura seems reserved, her demeanor is multifaceted and a delight for individuals who look at her in the appropriate light. In addition, the fragile and colorful illusory world in which she is sometimes lost in is also represented by the glass menagerie.

Another appropriate symbolism device is the glass unicorn which is part of Laura’s collection and a favorite. Jim notes, “Unicorns—aren’t they extinct in the modern world” signifying that Laura is out of touch with contemporary world. On the same breath, Laura is peculiar and withdrawn from the rest of the world. She is incapable of managing with the rest of the society as can be seen in the way she dodges business classes; instead she resolves to take a walk while secluded from the rest of the populace

Amanda: Laura, where have been going when you’ve gone on pretending that you were going to Business College?

Laura: I’ve just been going out walking (Potter & Williams, 1997, p. 11).

Moreover, the fire escape with a landing figuratively shows a way out of the frustrations bedeviling the Wingfield household. In Scene four, Laura sips during the fire escape signifying her inability to experience liberty from her distresses. In the long run, she cannot be compared to the beautiful glass figurine; she is like the unicorn with the broken horn (a normal horse) or the mythic Blue Roses that are beyond realism. 

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