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Symbolism in The Glass Managerie
The Glass Managerie written by Tennessee Williams is a modern drama that focuses on the personal experiences that a family goes through during the 1930?s depression. Tom serves as the narrator and protagonist. He lives at home with his mom, Amanda and his sister, Laura whom he supports by working in a show warehouse. Tom hates his job very much and constantly dreams of becoming a marine someday. Tom dislikes having all these responsibilities and continues to strive for adventure by going to movies and sitting on the fire escape. Tom?s mother, Amanda, is quite controlling and confused. Her husband left when the children were very young. Therefore it is hard for her to cope at times and her overload of words belittles them. At some points, it seems as if Amanda finds it necessary to lie to her children to make matters better. Brown has noted that ?if they lie to others, their major lie is to themselves? (qtd. in 457). Tom?s sister, Laura, suffers from a minor disorder creating problems in distinguishing the difference between reality and fantasy. Due to this disorder, Laura becomes very dependent on Tom and Amanda. Lastly, Jim O?Connor is one of Tom?s friends at the warehouse. He is different from all the other characters. He works very hard and does his best to reach his goal of obtaining the American Dream. Jim acts as a guardian angel for the family, letting them all know there is still hope in fulfilling their dreams. Tennessee Williams places symbols around these characters that creates a variety of attitudes but one focus ? survival.
These symbols used in The Glass Managerie are extremely interesting. The unicorn symbolizes Laura?s complexity and uniqueness, the picture of Mr. Wingfield symbolizes a very dictating/strong influence on the family he deserted, and the coffin trick done by Malvolio symbolizes the overwhelming breathtaking pressure that Tom sometimes feel concerning his lifestyle.
The unicorn symbolizes ways that Laura is unusual. The structure of the unicorn especially the horn refers to ways that Laura is a strange person. Laura?s escape includes her glass managerie, listening to records on the Victrola, and visiting the park and zoo. Laura is able to identify with the glass managerie because she has trouble facing the real world. The pieces are small and delicate just like Laura feels she is. The Victrola is a reminder of her father, Mr. Wingfield. She plays records to get away from the present day situations and reminiscence about the times she had with her father. When Laura stops going to Rubicam?s Business College, she would spend many a lot of her time at the zoo or park. She loved nature and thought that the zoo and park were absolutely beautiful which was a deep contrast to her real life. Laura?s emotional problems cause many difficulties in her life. While in high school, Laura was really self-conscious about the brace she has to wear. This is very apparent while she talks to Jim:
?Yes it was hard for me, getting upstairs. I had that brace on my leg ? it clumped so loud! I never heard any clumping. To me it sounded like ? thunder! Well, well, well, I never even noticed. And everybody was seated before I came in?I had to go clumping all the way up the aisle with everyone watching! You shouldn?t have been self-conscious. I know, but I was? (Williams 1055).
Laura suffered all the way through high school. She scored very low on her final examinations and dropped out of school. After this failure, her self-esteem dropped from low to basically nonexistent. She could not face going back to school. Six years later, with a lot of pressure form her mom, Amanda; Laura tried to work towards completing her education again. She enrolled at Rubicam?s Business College. Laura only made it to the first test. When the test began, Laura became nauseous, and vomited on the floor and had to be carried out and lead to the bathroom. Laura never returned to school, and once again her fragile emotions got the best of her. The crystal clearness of the unicorn represents the fact that problems are easily apparent to anyone who cares to notice them. This is best seen through Jim?s evaluation of her:
?You know what I judge to be the trouble with you? Inferiority complex! ?Yep ? that?s what I judge to be your principal trouble. A lack of confidence in yourself as a person. You don?t have the proper amount of faith in yourself. I?m basing that fact on a number of your remarks and also on certain observations I?ve made? (Williams 1056-1057).
Jim, a stranger, was able to see good things through Laura and recognize her problems. Although the unicorn is the most recognizable symbol in the play, the portrait of Mr. Wingfield also serves as a meaningful symbol.
Mr. Wingfield?s picture is an insignia of his influence on Amanda, Laura and Tom. First, the size of the portrait suggests Mr. Wingfield?s strong grip on Laura, even though he has been gone nearly sixteen years. The ?blown up? photograph emerges on the wall as a gloomy reminder of him (Williams 1033). This really distresses Laura, who is optimistic that her father will return someday. This is visible when she plays the Victrola. The Victrola gives her pleasant thoughts of her father. She thinks about when times were good and wishes for that to take place again. The grin on Mr. Wingfield?s face reminds Amanda of the effect his personality had on her life. His grin and good looks are what attracted her to him. He had a lot of charisma and won Amanda?s heart through physical attraction, Amanda states: ?One thing your father had plenty of ? was charm! (Williams 1037). Amanda also remembers the good times they shared when they were young and courting. She even still wishes that he would someday return. Unfortunately she doesn?t look at the grin as being a pleasant everyday expression from her husband. She feels like the grin symbolizes her husband laughing as a result of leaving them. This is shown when Tom says: ?The last we heard of him was a picture postcard from Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, containing a message of two words ? ?Hello ? Good bye!? and no address? (Williams 1033). Finally, Mr. Wingfield?s white uniform mirrors Tom?s ambition to become a Merchant Marine. Tom wants so badly to break free of his boring life and satisfy his desire for adventure. Tom uses the concept of need to abandon as being hereditary: ?I?m like my father. The best bastard!? (Williams 1052). Just like the picture of Mr. Wingfield, Malvolio?s coffin trick also shows symbolism throughout the play.
Malvolio?s coffin trick is a token of Tom?s suffocating lifestyle. The first aspect, Malvolio?s similarities with Tom, refers to each of their life-threatening situations. Malvolio faces literal death by suffocation if he does not successfully escape the coffin. Conversely, Tom faces figurative death by emotional and spiritual suffocation if he does not find a way out of his present situation. The coffin, the second aspect, symbolizes the lifestyle from which Tom is striving to escape. Tom looks at his life as a “two-by-four situation” (Williams 1040). He fears living the next fifty-five years of his life working in the basement of a warehouse, performing mundane tasks, and making a mere sixty-five dollars a month.
Although he loves his family, he cannot tolerate the thought of spending the rest of his life in a cramped apartment, supporting his family, living with the constant worry of Laura?s well-being, and putting up with his mother?s frequent nagging. The nails of the coffin, its final facet, represent Laura and Amanda. In his trick, Malvolio escapes from the coffin without disturbing any of the nails; however, Tom knows that that will be impossible for him: “You know it don?t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?” (1040). Tom is suffocating in his own figurative coffin, but for him to escape he must disturb Laura and Amanda. Clearly, Malvolio?s escape from the coffin was much easier than Tom?s flight from his lifestyle will be.
Nonetheless, Tennessee William?s modern play, The Glass Managerie, contains well- developed forms of symbolism. It allows the reader to take normal items like: the unicorn, Mr. Wingfield?s portrait, and Malvolio?s coffin trick and tie them to the characters in a variety of ways. Tom seems to suffer until he just escapes just as his father has done in the past. Laura is basically where she began due to a heartbreaking moment with Jim O?Connor. Amanda begins and ends the play with the same intentions, overbearing concern. All three characters were different until Jim came into their lives. He wanted to do whatever it took to gain the American Dream. He talked with each family member and attempted to break through and give him or her hope that they too could survive by being a part of the American Dream. Amanda, Laura and Tom all wanted something different in life but no matter how different their thoughts were, a unicorn, portrait and coffin trick tied them all to the key factor for victory ? survival.
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