Tennessee Williams’ play “The Glass Menagerie” over the years has become a classic. It is a true story in which Williams, places himself as the narrator and one of the main characters of the play. The story relives the horrors of the Great Depression and the effects that it had on many people’s lives. The main characters in the story are Tom Wingfield, Amanda Wingfield, Laura Wingfield, Jim O’Connor, and only what is left of Mr. Wingfield, a photograph. Tom Wingfield has been left behind by his father to provide for his neurotic mother, Amanda, and his desperately shy sister, Laura. Amanda has all but given up hope for Laura to find a suitable gentleman caller. Now it is left up to Tom to find someone for Laura. Throughout the play Williams uses many scenes and props to symbolize many important, underlying facts.
The first of many props that Williams chooses to symbolize is the fire escape. At the beginning of the play, Tom recalls, “The apartment faces an alley and is entered by a fire escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation (Roberts and Jacobs 1582).” To Tom the fire escape symbolizes an escape to life. Whenever things were too unbearable inside the apartment, Tom would retreat to the fire escape. There he was able to see the rest of the world. Tom also used the fire escape for a permanent escape. When he finally left his family, he said, “I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space (Online).”
Williams also uses Laura’s glass unicorn as a symbol. Since Laura is so “pain-fully shy” the fact that she has a slight limp only hinders things (Hart). Laura’s mother makes her feel as if she is crippled. Laura puts all of her time and attention in her glass collection, where she has control of the fragile pieces. Her favorite piece is a glass unicorn. One night while Laura and Jim, a gentleman caller, are dancing, they knock the unicorn onto the floor where that horn breaks off. Laura wasn’t devastated she simply tells Jim that she will “just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less-freakish (Roberts and Jacobs 1623)!”
By using symbolism Williams allows his audience to look deeper into the story and see what is really happening. He also makes the reader use his or her own imagination to draw a conclusion to this play. Williams also allows contradiction from his readers, to decide whether or not the neurosis of the characters were justified. In one way or another “The Glass Menagerie” is a part of everyone’s life.