What symbolism is present in the play The Glass Menagerie?

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Besides the obvious symbolism of the menagerie itself (especially the unicorn’s losing its horn), Williams has made liberal use of symbolism in the dialogue and in the details of the Wingfield household.  For example “(My father) fell in love with long distance” is symbolic of his having deserted the Wingfield family (it can be argued that the very name of the family is symbolic).  For Tom, the fire escape balcony where he goes to dream is symbolic of the ship deck of a boat (he ends up in the Coast Guard) from where he can see the world and find adventures (and the music drifting up to him is symbolic of the romantic life just out of reach).  The movies he goes to are also symbolic of his desire to get out of his real-life situation.  The Gentleman Caller calls Laura “Blue Roses”, transforming symbolically her disease, pleurisy, into something unique and beautiful.  The whole play works this way; what appears as a normal family is actually a symbolic setting for being trapped in the romance of the past (Amanda’s flaw), unable to escape it and join the real world of the present. To address the unicorn symbolism, when Tom swings his jacket (symbolic of his unrest at being trapped there, and of his anguish to depart on an adventure of his own) and knocks the horn off the unicorn, Williams has transformed the mythic creature from a make-believe Romantic world into a real-life horse, a creature of the real world.

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The Glass Menagerie

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