Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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What is the significance of the "menagerie" concept to the Wingfield family?

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If we take the general definition of "menagerie," we see how easily it can apply to the Wingfield family.  The definition of the term as a "collection of exotic animals on display" or the idea of these creatures kept "in captivity," helps to bring out much in way of understanding the Wingfield family.  Certainly, the term has application to Laura's collection of glass animals, giving the term a sense of immediate relevance.  Yet, in a sense, the entire family is a "menagerie," exotic and distinctive "animals" kept on display for others to see, and, more importantly, kept in captivity in relation to one another.  Certainly, this explains why they are all so fundamentally different.  Williams' transformation of a traditional family into three people with three divergent belief systems and understandings of desires is what helps add to an almost dysfunctional element of the family, highlighting how the "menagerie" idea of being "exotic" animals on "display" or in "captivity" helps to add relevance.  At the same time, I think that the "menagerie" element helps to explain how fundamentally trapped and almost "deformed" each family member is.  The remarks about the unicorn being "different" from others and almost "freakish" could be Laura's words in describing the members of her family.  They are a "menagerie" of personalities that could not be with one another, but are equally unfit to be around anyone else.  This adds to the "captivity" element, something that Tom still experiences even after leaving the family.  It is here where the personalities and temperaments of Tom and Amanda, in particular, become more along the lines of tragic flaws than anything else.  In this, the concept of "menagerie" links in a strong manner to the Wingfield family.

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