The Glass Menagerie Questions and Answers
by Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie book cover
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Does the glass menagerie represent the same thing throughout the play, or does the meaning change?

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M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think it slightly changes in sentimental meaning, but not allegorically speaking. It continuously means fragility, clarity, and vulnerability. When Jim accidentally breaks the glass (a symbol of a broken heart, and a break in boundaries), Laura seems to realize the reality of her life. Maybe she even learns to accept her reality of being a woman whose life has been wasted hiding beneath the fragile shield of her glass menagerie. However, I do not see the symbol of the glass, itself, changing in any way-just the way Laura looks at it, and feels about it.

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Interesting discussion, because I came to a different conclusion about the glass menagerie and the meaning of the unicorn's horn being broken. I actually thought indicated the way that Laura was being drawn into the world. At this stage of course it looks as if Jim is interested in Laura, and we know that of all of her menagerie, it is the unicorn that Laura most identifies with. When the horn breaks and it is, in Laura's words, just like every other horse, it symbolises the potential of Jim to lead Laura into the world where she can be like everyone else. However, when it is clear that Jim is engaged and will not marry Laura, the gift of the unicorn to him symbolises Laura's final retreat from the world without hope of return.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In addition to the above comments, the glass menagerie is a complex symbol. Not only does it symbolize Laura and the inner change Laura's evening with Jim precipitates, it also represents Amanda's belief about her children and her attempt to keep them together and her hopes for their future prospects. Though it may be that Amanda tells her stories of her past life out of regret and self-aggrandizement, it may also be that she tells her stories to try to show her children how to focus on an effort to gain themselves their own future prospects. When Tom plays the role of the bull in the china shop and damages the glass menagerie, he represents the damage to Amanda's effort to help her children though she has limited resources. In the end, Amanda's children do find prospects for themselves rising as it were like the Phoenix from the shards of the broken magical unicorn, but the cost to Amanda is the loss of the unicorn, the loss of the ideal of what she dreamed for her children.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Another symbol in the play that remains constant is the record player and collection of records. These belonged to the father who has deserted the family. At times of great stress, Laura runs to the record player. It is an escape for her, as is her glass collection, but it takes on a special connotation. Perhaps Laura is retreating into a time of greater safety, before her father went away.

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While the glass animals remain symbolic throughout the play, as does the fire escape which is the "bridge" between illusion and reality, and the portrait of the father as symbol of escape, there are other symbols that appear and disappear in "The Glass Menagerie," which is described by Tom as narrator as "a memory play."  For instance, with the appearance of Jim comes the symbolic name "Blue Roses" which he recalls.  This name symbolizes Laura's unusual allure.  This also is significant in that it recalls Tennessee Williams sister, Rose, on whose character Laura is modeled.

Religious/spiritual symbolism is also present in last scenes. Laura is dressed in...

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nextlevelapparatussauce | Student

woooooooow 
you guys are awesome!

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eribogado | Student

the glass menagerie represents Laura's fragility and odditty. she is immerse in her own world where she escapes from reality. the unicorn represents Laura's uniqueness but when it breaks it represents a change in Laura´s life, now she is not going to be an unicorn in a world of horses anymore, that´s why I think that the meaning of the glass menagerie symbolism changes at the end of the story.

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epollock | Student

That's a good question. I think if it changed, then it would lead into something more allegorical as opposed to symbolizing one concrete object.

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