Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie: The Glass Prison

Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is a play told from the haunted perspective of a man about his sister, but the comment made is uniquely feminine. The emotional prison that Tom blames his sister for his entrapment is much less powerful than the web that entangles Laura.

Laura is forced into a world, not only by society, but by her own mother’s perception of it, that calibrates the worth of women based on their beauty, their charm, and their savoire-faire. It is a world that Laura will never excel in, due to her defect, yet her mother refuses to acknowledge that, imprisoning Laura in her own derailed dreams rather than letter her pursue avenues that would validate her existence.

In the second scene, Laura proclaims aloud that she’s crippled. In response, her mother forbids her to use “the word,” describing it as a “little defect.” Though her mother’s ideals are undeniably feminine, they’re far from feminist. She even goes so far as to imply that beauty is the only strategy a woman has to successfully rope a man with. The irony is evident in her mother’s paradoxical thinking, as she, at one time, had seventeen suitors but now has no husband at all. She remarks, “All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be.”

Worthless in a world of physical empowerment, Laura looks to her pretty glass menagerie for the illusion of beauty she creates for herself. But just like the glass, that world is easily shattered when Jim symbolically breaks her glass unicorn, at the same time, breaking her fantasy apart.

The reinforcement of this fear surfaces again when Jim asks her to dance and she refuses. His comment, “I’m not made out of glass,” suggests his understanding of her estrangement and attachment to the menagerie. Jim, who represents the real world—the aspirations that Laura will never attain,—is unbreakable. But, Laura is. She is broken like the unicorn. And when Jim breaks the horn off the unicorn, taking away its uniqueness and leaving him to the ranks of the other plain horses, he takes the spark out of Laura, leaving her to her mundane life, void of her glass menagerie illusions.