Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams
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Laura is a pivotal character in The Glass Menagerie. What are the symptoms and causes of her mental condition? What is her physical defect? What qualities make her a sympathetic character?

The symptoms of Laura's mental condition are introversion and social anxiety, likely caused by her sickly nature and physical handicap. She has a malformed leg that causes her to limp. Her gentleness and sensitivity make her a sympathetic character.

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Laura Wingfield is an extremely introverted and sensitive young woman. She is self-conscious, likely in part because of the problem with her leg. She wears a brace and walks with a limp, and she was sickly in high school, leading to the nickname "blue roses" that Jim bestows on her....

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Laura Wingfield is an extremely introverted and sensitive young woman. She is self-conscious, likely in part because of the problem with her leg. She wears a brace and walks with a limp, and she was sickly in high school, leading to the nickname "blue roses" that Jim bestows on her. Laura is immature and unable to stand up to her mother's insistence that Laura either find work or a man who will provide for her. Instead of asserting herself and explaining that she does not want to attend business school, she takes the passive aggressive route and only pretends to attend class until Amanda discovers the truth.

Laura is a sympathetic character in part because she is loving to Tom. She understands his frustrations with the expectations their mother has for him. She does not malign him for his interest in writing and films, and she does not lash out when he breaks one of her beloved glass animals. Laura's gentleness and devotion to her glass menagerie is endearing; she creates for herself a fantasy world that is benign and childlike. Her crush on Jim, which has lasted for years, is both pathetic and understandable. She has been sheltered and has no cynicism or discernible anger. Laura has resigned herself to live a reclusive life and likely holds no more animosity toward Tom for his escape than she does for her father.

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I'll start by explaining Laura's physical defect, because it is partly this that has caused her mental and psychological condition.

Laura's physical defect is a slight limp. However, this limp has become exaggerated; it has taken over her mind to the point that it becomes a large part of who she is. Her limp stems from the fact that her one leg is slightly shorter than the other. She suffered a disease as a child which caused this confidence-destroying affliction.

Mentally and psychologically, Laura is nervous and incredibly sensitive. Because of these traits, she has withdrawn into a fantasy world. A collection of glass animals is the most important thing to her. Despite being an adult, Laura still relies on her mother. She seems incapable of taking care of herself. She does, however, prove able to forget her physical handicap when Jim comes to visit. This proves to only be temporary, though.

A sympathetic character is one whom the audience can relate to and find likable. Watchers or readers naturally feels sympathy for Laura due to her limp. They appreciate her for her ongoing efforts to urge the various members of her family to get along. When Jim O'Connor comes into the picture, those watching the play are invariably gutted at Laura's disappointment when he turns out to be engaged.

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