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The basics of the plot of, "The Glass Menagerie" constructs Laura as a tragic figure. This is not just because she is unmarried and painfully shy, but also because she is actually physically crippled and must wear a brace on her leg, a physical outward sign to all that she is different. Still, even a physical handicap and social awkwardness are not enough to qualify her as tragic, her situation itself contains tragedy.
Laura lives with a mother who is stuck in the past and who does not want to admit to Laura's flaws, so that she could help her overcome them. For instance, when Amanda tells her children in the opening scene about how she "â€¦received-seventeen! - gentlemen callers!" (page 1157), in one afternoon when she was younger. "What? No one - not one? You must be joking!" (pg. 1158) is what Amanda says to her daughter after an afternoon waiting for men to come and call on them. She just does not want to see that men do not call on women anymore and that the times have change. Her mother just cannot seem to get into her head that Laura cannot handle the pressures of learning at school and that she needs to marry a man to be successful in life. Her brother, Tom, feels obligated to take care of her but also cares about her because she is his sister. Their mother adds to this feeling of obligation in the fourth scene by telling him that "â€¦as soon as Laura has got somebody to take care of her, married, a home of her own, independent - why, then you'll be free to go wherever you pleaseâ€¦". Although Tom does feel the pressure of having to make sure that his sister is taken care of, before he can run off and travel, he also does care for Laura. At the end of scene four we see some signs of remorse after he has broken her glass collection and at the end of the play when he walks along the streets and reminded of his sister by the glass bottles. Also at the beginning of scene four, after saying that he will not speak to their mother, after their fight, he does so because Laura asks him to. His affection for her also shows when she rushes down the fire escape to fast and slips Tom jumps to help her but she tells him she is fine. Her father "â€¦fell in love with long distanceâ€¦" (pg. 1155) and his only presences in "The Glass Menagerie" is his portrait that overlooks the goings-on of the house.
Laura is never an antagonistic character, yet the confrontations between her mother and brother, especially in scene 3, seems to greatly affect her. She seems tragic because she makes herself feel that way and the events that happen to her end in tragedy. As we saw in the final scene Laura felt insecure about wearing a leg brace during high school for her physical condition. She always thought that "â€¦it clumped so loud!" (page 1192) "To [her] it sounded like - thunder!" (page 1193) but Jim told her that she was just over exaggerating and the "â€¦[he] never even noticed." (page 1192) the sounds, she heard. The stage directions show us Jim, either intentionally or unintentionally encouraging Laura's emotions for him to become stronger. Jim is told to have, starry eyes after talking about the future and grinning at Laura when she looks at him shyly, to dance with her in a klutzy waltz but acts like she is the most graceful girl in the world. When he finally kisses her and then tells her that he is engaged to be married Laura has come across another tragic event. This shatters Laura and all her hopes for escape seem to be impossible. She is not even a rare and beautiful glass figurine but a unicorn with a broken horn, making her a "normal horse" or a mythic blue rose that is pretty, but unreal.
The stage directions, in this play, seem to amplify the dramatic tragedies that happen in Laura's life. They show the audience how frail she is. For instance, when Tom and Amanda are quarreling, "Laura [is to] stand in front of them with clenched hands and panicky expression. A clear pool of light on her figure throughout this scene." (pg. 1163). This is important not only because it draws attention to her frail glass like nature but also because it makes the reader painfully aware of the effects that the bickering has on her. As Tom tries to leave after the bickering, between him and Amanda, he cannot seem to put on his coat and in an act of frustration "â€¦he tears the coat off again â€¦ and hurls it across the room. It strikes against the shelf of Laura's glass collection; there is a tinkle of shattering glass." This is another way that we are shown through the stage directions that Laura is affected tragically from the bickering of Tom and Amanda; she is shattered just like her glass menagerie. Tennessee Williams' description of Laura helps explains her separation from others and that an illness affected her leg as a child which in turn made her self-conscious and becomes, "like a piece of her own glass collection." It is difficult to see Laura as fully developed, especially since she has relatively few lines, even though her presence drives the plot, it seems, because of these stage directions that we are to see her as a glass figurine in human shape, mostly mute, unique, and extremely fragile.
She is enclosed in a miniature, cramped apartment with her "keeper" and is rarely, if ever, handled. The reader pictures Laura wandering the streets alone with a bad leg, in the cold, just to get out of her classes and self embarrassment. One of the most tragic scenes, for Laura, is when she is alone with Jim. Her affection for him clearly shows and Jim leads her onto hoping that he is her escape. It is at this point that we see the full tragic scope of her situation, especially since Jim seems to present a picture of the "real world" thus making Laura contrast with it. She has no place in the "modern world" she is much like the unicorn, before and after the horn is broken off. The horn symbolizes her heart while the unicorn itself is her detachment from the real world. She should not be touched, since she breaks so easily. She seems to realize this when she tells Jim, "if you breatheâ€¦it breaks." (page 1197)Â It is tragic that she once had a chance at being handled, emotionally, and then it became shattered and impossible.
It would still be easy to view Laura as a tragic figure, simply because of her isolation from the "modern" world of Jim or even her brother. Still, the full effect of her tragic state would not be realized without including the metaphor of her being a glass figure, forever encased in the "coffin" of her mother's house without her brother, the only other person who could understand her. While it is tragic enough to think of a shy person with a bad leg, this is not the real tragedy; the true tragic scenario is that she is the broken unicorn who is fated to become a regular horse.