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Is the ending of The Glass Menagerie (Tennessee Williams) tragic for Laura? The tragedy of Tom is plain to see; he is out living his dream but cannot enjoy a second of it because of his overwhelming guilt. Amanda is abandoned by her son years after her husband leaves her, so she's clearly tragic too.

But what about Laura? My professor points to (1) the unicorn figurine breaking and (2) Laura blowing out the candles at the end as obvious signs that there is little hope for Laura after her disappointing "date" with Jim and after Tom's later departure. This confused me because I read the character a little differently (I read the play before the lecture).

The unicorn is a symbol of Laura's fragility and uniqueness, both of which are fairly positive, even endearing qualities but which also make her tragic during the play. The unicorn must break for Laura to come out of her shell. She must give up the things she seeks security in - as delicate, lovely and romantic as they may be - to survive in the world. As she says to Jim, it really is a "blessing in disguise".

And when I read the line "Blow out your candles, Laura" (following which Laura actually blows out the candles onstage), I saw that as Tom's wish to no longer be haunted by thoughts of his sister as well as a symbol of Laura leaving her unusual fantasy world of security. She must abandon her candles to become an adult, to become part of the world that is "lit by lightning". There is a definite, poignant loss of innocence here, but I also had the sense, especially after Jim's good-natured words of encouragement to her, that Laura might end up just fine. She was miserable being her pure, innocent "candle" self because it cut her off from the world and from the prospect of a full life. Having to leave behind this older self is very sad indeed, but necessary for her growth in the long run. This is how I read it, but judging from other people's commentary, Laura's future is generally seen as being much more bleak.

Am I missing some important textual clues? I feel like I might also be imposing my own personal views and not seeing the play as it really is. For example, maybe I cannot see why Laura is necessarily doomed because I, like any other 21st-century reader, am too far removed from the world of the play?

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The end of this play is about Tom. He leaves the house he grew up in, starts wandering, never comes back, and never even bothers to figure out what has happened to his family.

If Tennessee Williams had addressed the question of what happened to the rest of the family, one way or the other, the ending would be less poignant. So I would expect that there are no textual clues that address what happens to Laura and her mother, one way or the other, after the play ends.

We can guess what Tom thinks has happened, but it's not clear that his judgment about people is trustworthy, so he could easily be mistaken.

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There is nothing to indicate that Laura will suddenly be free of her crippling social anxiety simply because her Unicorn broke and because she blew out the candles. I believe that the breaking of the Unicorn is symbolic of the fact that Laura will now be forced to 'break' with the fantasy world she has created for herself. Instead of wallowing in her dreamy, childlike existence, she must now become an adult. Tom's abandonment of both her and her Mother means that she will now have to live in the real world, which will be a whole lot harsher now that she no longer has her brother working all hours to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Whilst Laura had her brother to support her, she was able to live in her fantasy world of Glass Animals and music, but now that her brother has gone, whether she likes it or not, she MUST grow up. The blowing out of the candles is also symbolic in my opinion. With Tom's departure, it represents the darkness that Laura and her Mother have now been plunged in to. From this point onwards, Laura's world will be even darker and more bleak than it was before. Laura's social anxiety means that she is not capable of going out in to the world and finding herself a job, which indicates that both she and her mother will be plunged in to abject poverty, perhaps even homelessness. Tom's recollection of events might not be one hundred per cent accurate, but he understands his Mother and his sister very well, and he knows that neither of them are capable of standing on their own two feet. Laura is a tragic figure, because she is in a situation not of her own making; she is emotionally and physically disabled and unlike her brother, she has no means of escape.

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You assume something for which there are no textual clues: that these losses will result in a positive result for Laura. You state, "The unicorn must break for Laura to come out of her shell," but that does not mean that she will come out of her shell merely because it broke. You state, "She must abandon her candles to become an adult," but that does not mean that she will become an adult after abandoning her candles. She could still exist in a gray, disillusioned state without ever growing.

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  • Thank you for your answer, Mary. You are very right. If I may ask another question, do you think the clues hinting at a bleak future for Laura are equally insufficient? Dec 21, 2022 at 9:13
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    I do not, because the absence of any indication that something will change is an indication that it will not, and also because her brother's retrospective account doesn't even hint at any change.
    – Mary
    Dec 22, 2022 at 2:01
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If there were any element in the text that might be interpreted as a hope that would salvage Laura, it would be her encounter with Jim, that his encouragement of her and his boosting of her confidence would resonate with her, given that he is a person who is deeply significant to her.. this encounter may have strengthened her.. other than that, all the symbols are meaningless regarding her salvation.. and that too is very subjective and arguable, which is always a crucial problem with William's works, that is, as a great poet as he is, he has no sense of catharsis, which is a fatal flaw for a dramatist!!

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Laura has been saying Yes, Mother, all her life. Now she will say Yes, Mother, men ARE awful. Her mother has ruined Laura's self esteem. And maybe Tom's too. Tom could have been writing instead of going to movies or drinking. He could have sat in a pub and written plays or stories or poems. And attempted to sell them. We dont know if Tom had any writing talent. Jim led Laura on! He could have dropped a hint in conversation that he was excited about getting married soon. Instead, he pulled Laura into a dance, kissed her, told her how pretty she was. Yadda yadda yadda. Sound familiar? Then he panicked and left. Laura fell for Jim's charm just as Amanda had done with her husband. It's possible Jim made up that story about having a girl friend, being engaged, etc. Maybe he realized he didnt want to get mixed up in this family's drama. What i feel IS predictable is that both Laura and her mother have seen a pattern. Three times now. The 3 most important men in their lives have all left. Abruptly, permananently, tragically. At least Jim psyched out Laura, partially And was positive, building her up. (Unlike her mother!) But Laura is not an Easy Fix. Both Amanda and Laura are unwell. Is Laura willing or able to step up to supporting herself and her mother too? How? And Leave her mother home alone all day? Could she make as much money as Tom did at the factory? All 4 characters in the play lied to each other. At least in Shakespeare's tragedies, i felt there was an Ending. But with this play, i was wishing for one. Amanda was crazymaking. I cant say i blame her husband for leaving, if she behaved like this with him. but to not send money home to support Amanda and his two children, one very fragile daughter, is unforgiveable. I realize this is a Memory play, and a reflection of Williams' early family life.

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