In The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, the glass figurine of the unicorn plays an inherently important role as a representation of Laura’s self esteem. The collection of glass figurines is used by Laura to escape from the dangers of the outside world. The unicorn is the central piece to her collection and is important because it directly symbolizes Laura. The unicorn represents Laura’s obsession with her handicap and also represents the uniqueness in her character. As the play develops, the fracture of the unicorn’s horn represents a change in Laura’s perspective of self and also gives a reason to why she parts with the figurine in the end.
The unicorn is a mythological figure. Closely related to the horse, it is uniqueness comes in the form of a long horn located on the center of its forehead. In Laura’s menagerie, it is unlike the other figures. In fact, Laura refers to the unicorn as being “freakish.” (109) Her characterization of the unicorn reflects how she feels about herself. It is because of its uniqueness that Laura chose to identify with it. She creates a world with her figurines in which the abnormal coexists with the normal. When Jim, the gentleman caller, inquires about the unicorn being lonely, she replies, “He stays on a shelf with some horses that don’t have horns and all of them seem to get along nicely together.”(101) In her imaginary world no one judges her because of her limp and it is that world she is capable of coping in. Laura’s characterization of the figurines hints at her inner desires to be able to deal with the outside world and become less “freakish.” Laura tells Jim, “[the figurines] all like a change of scenery once in a while.” (102)
The delicacy of the glass unicorn reflects the fragility of Laura, emotionally and physically. Laura describes the unicorn as being the most fragile out of the group, indicating how she feels about herself in a world with normal people. Laura can be broken both literally and figuratively as easily as glass. “If you breathe[on glass], it breaks.” (101)
Laura suffers from an “inferiority complex,” much like how Jim described. She feels burdened with
The fracture of the unicorn converted the figurine from “freakish” to normal. At this point in the play, Laura is no longer retreating to her imaginary world. Her self- confidence has risen because the man she desired for in high school is showing an interest in her. In a stark contrast to an earlier reaction in the play when a figurine was shattered, Laura reacted to the unicorn fracture almost nonchalantly. Earlier in the play when Tom broke a figurine, Laura reacted as though the breaking mortally wounded her. When the unicorn was fractured, Laura seemed to be relieved that the unicorn was no longer freakish. Her interactions with Jim allowed herself to believe that she could be normal. By believing that she could be normal, her true charm is seen and she no longer appears withdrawn.
The symbolism of the fractured unicorn shifts when Jim reveals to Laura his engagement to another girl. The news of the engagement shatters Laura’s self-esteem and forces her to revert back to her imaginary world. The fractured unicorn no longer represents Laura’s intentions to become normal, but represents a new life Laura is not willing to deal with. She can no longer relate to the normal unicorn because it is no longer freakish or unique, as the reverted Laura is. She parts with the unicorn and gives it to Jim because the unicorn now represents the ordinary, which is characteristic of Jim.