Style is the novelist’s choice of words and phrases, and how the novelist arranges these words and phrases in sentences and paragraphs. Style allows the author to shape how the reader experiences the work. For example, one writer may use simple words and straightforward sentences, while another may use difficult vocabulary and elaborate sentence structures. Even if the themes of both works are similar, the differences in the authors’ styles make the experiences of reading the two works distinct. Many novels have two layers of meaning. The first is in the literal plot, the second in a symbolic layer in which images and objects represent abstract ideas and feelings. Symbolism is an invaluable literary tool that may be employed by authors or playwrights to aid in the development of characters or to display themes in novels.
Using symbols allows authors to express themselves indirectly on delicate or controversial matters. In the play The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, Williams uses many symbols, which represent many different things. Many of the symbols used in the play try to symbolize some form of escape or difference between reality and illusion, displaying how the characters are separated from reality. The symbol of the glass menagerie is the set of glass menagerie itself, representing the bridge between the illusory world of the Wingfield’s and the world of reality.
Laura Wingfield and her world are symbolized by her menagerie of glass figurines. The different animals in the menagerie represent many different aspects apparent in Laura. The state of her emotions is fragile like her animals; in particular, the unicorn represents her uniqueness. To begin, the animals in the menagerie are representative of Laura in that when light is shone through them, they can appear very beautiful and interesting. When others get to know Laura, they can see different aspects of her personality and discover that there is much more to her than the shy, barely visible girl. Likewise, the animals are transparent and need to be noticed and handled in order that one can see their brilliance.
In addition, Laura stays at home and does not wish to go out, like her animals that cannot escape their surroundings. The animals cannot adjust with the times and are, therefore, inactive. Laura has been brought up by her mother Amanda who lives in the past. Amanda is always telling Tom and Laura, her children, about the gentlemen callers she had when she was young and receiving their intentions as the most beautiful southern belle. She talks about the current prosperity of those men and silently wishes that she had chosen one of them so that she could have a better life. Thus, Laura is kept from the present because of Amanda’s wish that Laura live out her unfulfilled dreams.
The glass figurines are delicate and must be gently handled. Laura’s emotions are very fragile since she has grown up feeling insecure because of her crippled leg: “You know what I judge to be the trouble with you? Inferiority complex! Know what it is? That’s what they call it when someone low-rates himself.” (Seven, p77) In addition, Laura has weak nerves, which cause her to become sick when she goes to business school. She is too embarrassed to go back; so, she goes to the park or the zoo instead. When Jim O’Connor comes to the Wingfield’s home, Laura is very shy because she has liked Jim since they were in high school together. After dinner, Jim asks Laura to sit and talk with him.
Jim becomes increasingly flirtatious and he eventually kisses her. She is overjoyed and she has become much less shy around him. When Jim admits that he has a fiancé, her heart is broken because it is so fragile. Laura’s animals live in their case because they cannot survive outside of it. When Laura ventures outside of her comfort zone, she is shattered.
The unicorn in Laura’s collection represents her uniqueness or, rather, peculiarity. Like the unusual unicorn, Laura is sad and lonesome in her world like the unicorn is in his world because he is “extinct”, according to Jim. Just before Laura’s fragile heart is broken, the unicorn’s horn breaks off because of Jim. Laura states that the unicorn is now just like the other normal horses. Laura has lost her uniqueness because Jim has encouraged her to become more normal. The broken figure represents what Jim has done to her; so, she gives it to Jim as a remembrance of his misguided deeds. The animals in the menagerie are symbolic of Laura because they both have many of the same aspects. In particular they are fragile, and the actions done to the unicorn show what happens to Laura. The symbolism helps to explain and develop the meaning of the play as told from Tom’s memory.
The unicorn plays a supreme role in symbolizing the relationship between Laura and the gentleman caller Jim. Laura occupies much of her time with her glass collection, her glass menagerie of animals. The unicorn just happens to be her favorite animal, and the reader can therefore make a close connection between Laura, a unique character, and the unicorn, a unique animal. In high school, Laura was the unicorn in a society full of horses because she was shy and had a leg brace.
It is highly symbolic that Jim breaks the horn of the glass unicorn just before revealing the truth to Laura about his marital status. When Laura finds out that Jim is engaged to be married, Laura’s hopes are shattered. By breaking the glass unicorn’s horn, Jim unintentionally brings Laura into the real world where she is no longer sheltered by the confines of her illusionary glass world. When the unicorn loses its horn and becomes like the rest of the animals in the glass menagerie, it loses its uniqueness. Likewise, when Laura gains confidence through Jim, she realizes that she is not too different from everyone else.
The glass menagerie itself is symbolic and represents the culmination of the Wingfield’s dreams. Each character aspires to achieve individual goals; for Tom, it is escape, for Laura, it is attaining the affections of her love, while for Amanda, it is to recapture the past. In the end, the menagerie proves to be symbolic of the family’s shattered dreams and failures. For the Wingfield’s their menial existence is immortalized in glass, and they are restricted by the boring repetitiveness of their lives during the depression. All the characters as a whole have tried to escape the harsh reality, yet in every case they manage to fail, and in turn shatter their dreams like glass.