What is the symbolic significance of the unicorn? What is the significance of the fact that the unicorn gets broken and Laura gives it to Jim as a souvenir?
The entire menagerie is fragile and the figures in it are make-believe, fantasies, in a world into which Laura retreats to escape her mother’s ranting, her own disabilities, and her failure to survive in the real world. The difference between a horse and a unicorn is its horn (mildly phallic), so when Tom, in anger and frustration, swings his jacket into the collection, Tennessee Williams is saying his actions take the mysterious non-worldliness out of Laura’s collection, rendering it real (a horse), breaking the illusory world into which Laura has retreated. Tom always meant to escape Amanda’s hold, not only on him, but also on Laura, and promises her to eventually take her away. Her giving the unicorn (now horse) to Tom is her outward symbol of hearing his promise to return long enough to get her out.