Study Guide

The Glass Menagerie Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Tennessee Williams

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Blue Roses and Jonquils

Yes, we’ve got some flower stuff going on here. Amanda always talks about jonquils when referring to her past, when she herself was a pretty little Southern Belle surrounded by dozens of gentlemen callers. Jonquils are a type of Narcissus, which is named of course from Greek Mythology and has to do with vanity, or narcissism. Interesting. Also, and we may be getting totally out of hand here, but jonquils are the same thing that we Americans call daffodils, and e.e. cummings, who is referenced to already twice in the play, wrote a poem about daffodils that also discusses roses. Not that that means anything. Back to business: for Amanda, the flowers are reminiscent of the past and signify what she wants for her daughter.

So Laura counters with blue roses. Jim’s old nickname for Laura, "Blue Roses," comes to represent Laura’s unique and individual self, a self that Jim and only Jim recognizes. Blue roses have this sort of mythical significance of being mysterious, or impossible to come by, which makes sense when you look at Jim’s description of Laura as a one-in-a-million girl.

The Glass Menagerie, in particular the Unicorn

The Glass Menagerie is fragile and delicate, just as Laura. This fragility is manifested physically in the glass; as Laura says, "If you breathe, it breaks!" Yowzah. It’s also really beautiful, as those of you with unhealthy glass animal fetishes may have already known. Laura has the same kind of beauty – the translucent, other-worldly, delicate kind.

Then there’s this unicorn business. When Laura talks about the unicorn, she reveals that it is her favorite glass animal, that it is unique from all the other horses because of its horn. Not that Laura has a horn, as far as we know, but she is really different from most girls, as Jim recognizes. Part of what separates her from the pack is her off-the-charts shyness. So when Jim makes her dance with him, and the horn breaks off the unicorn, Laura calls it a "blessing in disguise" – she is being made to be a normal person. However, when Jim turns out to be engaged, she gives him the unicorn, in a tragic sort of "look what you broke in me" kind of way.

The Movies, The Fire Escape

Tom hates his life and he uses movies, dancing, and the occasional bottle of booze to get him through. Notice how he always heads to the movies when things at home get unbearable, like his mother yelling at him?

And of course, the fire escape. We mean, the fire ESCAPE. Tom keeps hanging out there, partly because of the smoking thing, but really because of the ESCAPE thing. This is foreshadowing. Tom almost escapes…almost escapes…very nearly escapes…and then ESCAPES! Only not really, because he can never truly escape the memory of Laura.


You might have noticed that Amanda has this issue with alcohol. She refuses to let Tom drink, she needs to ensure that Jim doesn’t, and she mentions briefly that her irresponsible husband used to. What’s cool about this, and why we decided to put it in this oh-so-exclusive section, is that when Amanda talks about alcohol, she isn’t just talking about alcohol. She sort of uses it to mean everything bad – like reading D.H. Lawrence and going to the movies and having dreams of adventure. Alcohol also ends up being a connection between Tom and his father: they both drink. Amanda doesn’t like Tom "taking after his ways," and we, the wise and perceptive audience, know this means that Tom will, like his father, eventually abandon the family as well.

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