Anything that stands for or represents something else is called a symbol. Symbolism is used in everyday life in many different cultures. Symbolism is represented in many different ways as you will see in both The Glass Menagerie and Mulatto. The play Mulatto by Langston Hughes uses a great amount of symbolism to help readers relate to the story. Symbolism is used many times, sometimes with different meanings.
In Mulatto, Cora represents the peace-keeper of the house. She tries to make the kids nicer to Mr. Norwood and Mr. Norwood nicer to the kids. Cora is also the divider between the blacks and whites. Robert represents rebellion towards being mistreated. He strongly believes that blacks should be treated differently. He really stands up for his beliefs and his whole race, and often got in to trouble because he was the only one standing up for his color. The largest, most important symbol in this play is the front door. It symbolizes the unacceptance of peoples colors. It often caused conflicts between Robert and his father. “The realistic cause of conflict is the ‘color line’ the symbolic line that people must cross in order to accept each either as human beings. This is an ideal goal, just as it is also an insurmountable obstacle, in the society that the play depicts. (Jacob’s 1553-54). Mr. Norwood will not let blacks use the front door because he thinks it should be used by whites only. Robert tries to cross the color line to try to feel as if he is accepted as a partially white person. Robert also does this as a form of rebellion. When Robert does get caught using the door he gets yelled at and punished. All of the symbols stand for ideas, values, persons, or ways of life.
The play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams uses symbolism in the play to distinguish between reality and illusion. This play explores the family dynamics, delusions, and personalities of the Wingfields. This play uses symbolism as an escape or entry into reality.
The Glass Menagerie utilizes symbolism in the first scene, the fire escape. “This represents the “bridge” between the illusory world of the Wingfields and the world of reality.”(williams, 23). This “bridge” seems to be a one way passage, but the direction varies for each character. For Tom, the fire escape is the way out of the world of Amanda and Laura and an entrance into the world of reality. For Laura, the fire escape is a way into her world. A way to escape from reality. Both examples can readily be seen: Tom will stand outside on the fire escape to smoke, showing that he does not like to be inside, to be a part of the illusionary world. Laura, on the other hand thinks of the fire escape as a way in and not a way out. This can be seen when Amanda sends Laura to go to the store: Laura trips on the fire escape. This also shows that Laura’s fears and emotions greatly affect her physical condition, more so than normal people.
Another symbol presented deals more than Tom than any of the other characters: Tom’s habit of going to the movie shows us his longing to leave the apartment and head out into the world of reality. A place where one can find adventure. Tom, being a poet, can understand the needs of man too long for adventure and romance. But he is kept from entering reality by Amanda, who criticizes him as being a “selfish dreamer.” But, Tom has made steps to escape into reality by transferring the payment of a light bill to pay for his dues in the Merchant Seaman’s Union. Another symbol, which deals with both Amanda and Laura, is Jim O’Connor. To Laura, Jim represents the one thing she fears and does not want to face, reality. Jim is a perfect example of the common man: a person with no real outstanding qualities. In fact, Jim is rather awkward, which can be seen when he dances with Laura. To Amanda, Jim represents the days of her youth, when she went frolicking about picking jonquils and supposedly having “seventeeen gentlemen callers on one Sunday afternoon.” (Jacob’s 1584). Although Amanda desires to see Laura settled down with a nice young man, it is hard to tell whether she wanted s gentleman caller to be invited for Laura or for herself. One symbol which is rather obvious is Laura’s glass menagerie. Her collection of glass represents her own private world. It is set apart from reality, a place where she can hide and be safe. The events that happen to Laura’s glass affects Laura’s emotional state greatly. When Amanda tells Laura to practice typing, Laura instead plays with her glass. When Amanda is heard walking up the fire escape, she quickly hides her collection. She does this to hide her secret world from the others. When Tom leaves to go to the movies in an angered rush, he accidentally breaks some of Laura’s glass. The shattered glass represents Laura’s understanding of Tom’s responsibilities to her. Also, the unicorn, which is important, represents Laura directly. Laura points out to Jim that the unicorn is different, just as she is different. She also points out that the unicorn does not complain of being different, as she does not complain either. And when Jim breaks the horn off the unicorn, Laura points out that now it is like the other horses, just as Laura has shed some of her shyness and become more normal. As Tharpe says, “Laura Wingfield is both the lyrical and symbolic center of the play”(194). When she hands the broken unicorn to Jim, this might represent Laura handing over her broken love to Jim, as Jim has revealed that he is engaged to be married.
All of the symbols that are used and are very deep and have different meanings for each character. Symbolism is one of the most important aspects in the Mulatto and The Glass Menagerie. Without symbolism plays would be dull and the reader could not use their imagination as much.
1. Tharpe, Jac. Tennessee Williams: A Tribute.
2. Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Managerie.
Norfolk, Connecticut: The New Classics, 1949.