In The Glass Menagerie, what symbols/images and their relationships are used?

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Amanda, Tom and Laura's mother is both a symbol and an image in the play.  Symbolically, she represents a time gone by, a genteel time, when a lady was called upon by her gentleman callers and her future was secured through a prosperous marriage. 

 Laura, on the other hand has no such environment on which to rely for her future.  Amanda, between her behaviors, attitudes and her southern charm, keeps the old south alive in the play, so that the reader is constantly imagining what her life was like.  On the other hand, Amanda's image, of a washed out old debutante who is stuck in the past reflects the hopelessness of the situation in the family.

Tom keeps the image of his missing father alive through his attitude toward Amanda. Tom is a symbolic stand in for his long gone father.  Amanda, in the end, chases Tom away too. 

Laura, like Amanda will end up alone.  After Laura has her romantic interlude with her old high school friend, Jim, and he leaves abruptly because he is getting married.  It is easy to imagine that Laura will never leave the house again.

The dreary apartment reflects the melancholy of the lives of the characters.  The darkness that Tom leaves his mother and sister in is both figurative and literal.  They are left in physical darkness as they face the darkness of their uncertain future.  A future that at the end of the play consists of no income, no job and no prospects.   

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There are many symbols used in the play. In fact, the play is so rich that it overflows with them. The core symbol is, of course, the glass menagerie that gives the play its title—Laura's precious glass animals. When Tom breaks one, it represents not just an accident but a shattering of part of her innocence. When the typewriter is on stage, it represents Laura's failed attempt to make a life out in the world via business college. Jim's accidental nickname for Laura—Blue Roses—is something that is never found naturally out in the world, and would only exist in a hothouse situation; the same is true of Laura, and so it becomes a symbol of her. The "gentleman callers" Amanda remembers were real, but they also symbolize a lost age. The fire escape is a literal place; it really exists for their apartment. However, even the family sees it as a symbolic substitute for a porch, and Tom uses it as an escape from his life. When the lights go out, it happens on a literal level because Tom forgot to pay the bill, but it symbolizes the growing darkness in their lives and how distant Tom is from reality.

Greg

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