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(a). What symbolic significance does the unicorn have in the play? Answer- Laura had a close bonding with the unicorn because both were special but with the unicorn's horn gone it had become ordinary and for a breathtaking moment Laura had thought that she probably had the opportunity of becoming normal like the unicorn, but that was not to be. So she gives the unicorn to Jim as a souvenir and an indirect message to the audience that he had broken her dream of ever having a normal life.
When the horn of the unicorn breaks accidentally, she makes another fantasy out of it and says that now the unicorn would feel more relaxed and less "freakish" in the company of other horses. This is, perhaps, a reflection of her own secret longing to be more like other people and not be constantly reminded of her disability because of her leg-brace. The unicorn had special significance as Laura has a special bonding with the unicorn. The unicorn does not exist in reality and Jim points that out to Laura when he says, "A unicorn, huh? - aren't they extinct in the modern world?" (Williams 7). Similarly Laura is unable to exist in her real life and is more reminiscent of the luminous unicorn than the more ordinary people around her. She has a limp and feels deformed; the unicorn has only one horn, which makes him different from the rest of the animals.
This imagery is again brought to the fore when Laura and Jim are dancing and the horn of the unicorn is accidentally broken. Laura says, "Now it is just like all the other horses" (Williams 7). She, too, feels more normal and like other girls she knows now that Jim has danced with her and made her feel good. Ironically, however, when Laura hears that Jim is engaged she gives him the unicorn as a symbol of her relinquishing claims to normalcy and that the now "normal" unicorn minus his horn was more suitable for Jim's world more than hers. Jim's breaking off its horn also symbolized the fact that he had broken something inside of Laura by the announcement of his engagement.
Question 1(b). What symbolic significance does the entire glass menagerie have? Cite specific quotes to support your answer.
Answer- The play The Glass Menagerie is replete with symbols and the glass figurines that Laura collects which are both beautiful and delicate symbolizing her character the most closely. Laura is strangely beautiful and delicate and like her glass figurines is fragile and easy to destroy. For Laura fantasizing was a necessity as that was the only time when she felt unfettered and free. Her personification of the animals justifies her existence in this world of illusions where she spends most of her time and can feel uninhibited. Tom describes Laura's condition quite accurately when he says, "She lives in a world of her own - a world of - little glass ornaments" (Williams 5). She is also trapped in her menagerie like the others are trapped in their own memories and there is no escape for her.
Like Laura Amanda and Tom have their own methods of escaping the harsh reality. Tom keeps looking meaningfully at the fire escape as a possible route to escape the reality of his existence. Amanda tells Tom, "You don't know things anywhere! You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions" (Williams7). Amanda, on the other hand, keeps referring to her youth when she could attract people with her Southern charm. She reminisces to Jim, "All of my gentlemen callers were sons of planters and so of course I assumed that I would be married to one and raise my family on a large piece of land with plenty of servants" (Williams 6).
In The Glass Menagerie, Williams captures the more common tendency among humans to escape difficult situations rather than face them and have the energy to change their circumstances. Laura, perhaps, resorts to the more realistic practice of escapism and living in a bubble whereas the other characters escape either to their past of fanciful promise of the future . All of these reactions to life's realities are true and widely prevalent and one should not draw false conclusions or be judgmental about the methods opted by the characters to deal with their situations.
Question 2: Which character in the play can be considered the plays "hero"? Define your response with evidence from the text.
Answer: Laura is the tragic hero of this play as her character is the most tragic. Amanda has her memories of "blue mountains" and can carry fantasies of her being just as youthful and sought after as when she was a girl through the advancing years of her life. Tom escapes to the Merchant Marines and breaks away from the physical ties that held him trapped in the Wingfield family. Jim goes away to marry Betty and have a "normal" and commonplace life. Laura's situation is the most difficult. Painfully shy and conscious of her "deformity" she is as fragile as her glass figurines. Amanda tries to be encouraging but only ends up sounding facetious when she says, "Why you're not crippled, you just have a little defect - hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to make up for it - develop charm - and vivacity - and - charm!" (Williams 2). She does not realize that sentiments of this kind make Laura more diffident and lost.
In The Glass Menagerie all the main characters escape into a fantasy world when faced with the cold facts of their existence. They dream of what might have been or what will be but never really come to grips with what is. Laura escapes into her glass menagerie to seek freedom and peace. She conjures lives for her glass animals and talks about them in such a way as to indicate that they were actual beings and that she could communicate with them as she did with Amanda and Tom. Jim for a few moments had given her the hope of being able to find salvation but his declaration that he was engaged to be married shatters even that dream for Laura. At the end of the scene Tom asks Laura to blow out the candles which indicate that whatever hopes she may have had were blown away as well and plunged her life in darkness.