Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams
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What is the nature and the meaning of the structure of the glass menagerie ?

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Laura Wingfield's glass menagerie is a collection of exotic, even mythical animals. While Laura lives a very sheltered life, crippled with anxiety and dominated by her wistful, controlling mother, the glass figures provide Laura with something that she alone has control over. They inhabit a fantasy world, which she, too,...

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Laura Wingfield's glass menagerie is a collection of exotic, even mythical animals. While Laura lives a very sheltered life, crippled with anxiety and dominated by her wistful, controlling mother, the glass figures provide Laura with something that she alone has control over. They inhabit a fantasy world, which she, too, visits when she polishes them and admires them. She is especially fond of the unicorn, an extremely delicate creature that represents her. She explains to Jim, the gentleman caller, that the horn on the unicorn distinguishes it from the other horses; she, too, has a distinguishing handicap in her leg and a shyness and sensitivity that make her incompatible with most others.

When Jim and Laura dance, they awkwardly bump into the table housing the menagerie, and the delicate unicorn falls to the ground, breaking its horn off upon impact. Instead of being upset, Laura laughs and takes solace in her belief that the unicorn is no longer an outcast; it is like all the other horses. By facing her fear of interacting with men and allowing herself to be flattered by Jim, Laura feels that she, too, is now more like others. Unfortunately, Jim then breaks the news to Laura that he is engaged. The young man she has dreamed of for so long will never be hers. She gives Jim the broken unicorn as a "souvenir," showing that she, too, has been broken. The fantasy world she allowed herself to be a part of was simply fiction, and she is forced to return to her reality in the small Wingfield apartment.

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