The Glass Menagerie

In “The Glass Menagerie”, Tennessee Williams uses symbolism to develop
characterization. The various symbols that appear throughout the story generally
emerge as objects or imagery, and allow the reader to gain insight into the characters'
internal personalities and struggles. One of the more predominant symbols Williams
uses is the glass menagerie, which consists of small, fragile glass animals. As a whole,
the glass menagerie represents the fragility of the Wingfields, but is more directly
relevant to its caretaker, Laura. Williams uses one specific member of the glass
menagerie, the unicorn, to embody the fragility of Laura and the world she lives in.
Williams chose the unicorn, which sits on a shelf among horses, to epitomize
Laura’s character. A unicorn closely resembles an otherwise ordinary horse with the
unique characteristic of a horn, and in much the same way, Laura is an average girl with
the unique characteristic of a leg brace. In high school, Laura was a unicorn in a school
full of horses, and as a result, “never… had much luck at – making friends” (672).
Instead, Laura escapes her reality by living an introverted lifestyle, free from outside
interactions. Williams delves into Laura’s character in the final scene during her
interaction with the horse she had a crush on in high school, Jim.
As Jim and Laura become more closely acquainted, Laura changes and begins
to let down her guard. Midway though the final scene, Laura places the unicorn, her
favorite piece from the glass menagerie, in the palm of Jim’s hand. This symbolic
gesture signifies she has lowered her defenses and now trusts Jim. Jim takes the time
to admire its beauty and points out that unicorns are “extinct in the modern world” and
that “he must feel sort of lonesome” as a result of being different from other horses on
the shelf (676). This is his way of telling Laura that he understands her situation.
Laura has Jim set the unicorn down on the table instead of the...