The Glass Menagerie

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Glass Unicorn Symbol Analysis

Glass Unicorn Symbol Icon
The glass unicorn, Laura’s favorite figurine, is particularly representative of how Tom envisions Laura: beautiful but magical and unique. When Jim breaks the glass unicorn, it becomes a normal horse, no longer a magical creature. The unicorn’s shattering occurs just before Jim kisses Laura, but it signals the impossibility for Jim and Laura to be together: she cannot exist in his world without breaking. Laura presents the broken unicorn to Jim as a souvenir. The figurine becomes a memory of Laura that Jim can bring with him when he leaves Laura and returns to his life, but it also signifies the normal woman that Laura will never become.

Glass Unicorn Quotes in The Glass Menagerie

The The Glass Menagerie quotes below all refer to the symbol of Glass Unicorn. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the New Directions edition of The Glass Menagerie published in 1999.
Scene 7 Quotes

Jim: What kind of glass is it?
Laura: Little articles of it, they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie!...Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks!...There now—you’re holding him gently! Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie, Glass Unicorn
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

When Laura describes her glass menagerie to Jim, she is also describing herself. Laura is like a tiny, delicate animal, kept in careful seclusion from the world, living in a protected fantasy life rather than entering harsh reality. However, the fact that she lives separate from the real world doesn’t mean that she doesn’t experience emotions and desires. Laura projects some of these emotions into the glass animals. The glass animals seem to be static and ornamental, yet they react to how they are treated and the environments they are in. The glass unicorn that Jim holds is especially symbolic of Laura herself. When he holds the unicorn to the light, the unicorn itself seems to glow (to "love the light"). The light that appears again in this quote reminds the audience of the importance of light throughout this entire scene. Even the high school yearbook is called “The Torch.” Jim and Laura aren’t exactly old flames, but in this moment, Jim brings light into Laura’s life, which makes her glow.

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Unicorns—aren’t they extinct in the modern world?

Related Characters: Jim O’Connor (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glass Unicorn
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Jim is supposedly talking about Laura’s glass unicorn, he is also describing Laura herself. Laura feels a particular affection towards the glass unicorn because she sees herself in it. She is very delicate and fragile, and she does not quite exist within the normal scope of reality. Laura wanders in her own fantasy life, spending her days in gardens and greenhouses, and spending her nights cooped in the apartment. She is shy and skittish, like the mythical unicorn, and she makes others want to protect her. Jim’s comment that unicorns are extinct suggests that Laura herself would also become extinct in the real world, a dim imaginary figure rather than someone living a robust, vital life in a community.

Jim’s light joke about the unicorn also shows that he is humoring Laura by playing along with her as she shows him the menagerie. Though Jim is respectful and kind to Laura, he treats her glass menagerie as a pretty, innocent, somewhat childlike collection, and nothing more serious than that. To Laura, however, the glass animals are much more than mere dolls, and caring for them is an enormous part of her daily ritual. The glass animals, she feels, are dependent on her, and she takes responsibility for them. 

Jim: Aw, aw, aw. Is it broken?
Laura: Now it is just like all the other horses.
Jim: It’s lost its—

Laura: Horn! It doesn’t matter...I don’t have favorites much...I’ll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less—freakish!

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie, Glass Unicorn
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jim dances with Laura, they knock into the table where Jim had set the glass unicorn. The unicorn falls and its horn falls off. Laura attempts to put on a brave face, but she identifies strongly with the glass unicorn, so she feels its pain acutely. However, she suggests that the break comes as a possible blessing in disguise, as she puts it, because now, the unicorn could be treated normally ("just like all the other horses").

The unicorn’s broken horn also serves as a parallel to Laura’s own disease. In high school, Laura’s pleurosis caused her leg to hurt quite badly, and she had to wear a brace for some time. Just as Laura’s leg had been struck, now the unicorn’s horn is gone. When the unicorn’s horn breaks, Laura is shaken, but she masks her disappointment by suggesting that now the unicorn is like all the other horses, and doesn’t have to feel ostracized for being "freakish." If Laura had never had the disease, Jim would never have noticed her in high school and called here “Blue Roses,” a mishearing of “pleurosis.” Yet if she had not healed, Jim would not be dancing with her in the living room. Breaking the unicorn’s horn also has subtle sexual undertones, suggesting a possible erotic charge to the scene.

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Glass Unicorn Symbol Timeline in The Glass Menagerie

The timeline below shows where the symbol Glass Unicorn appears in The Glass Menagerie. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 7
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Laura tells Jim about her glass animals. She hands him the unicorn, her favorite, to hold. He says, lightly, that since unicorns are extinct in the modern... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
...disconsolate, but Jim does not notice the depths of her despair. She places the broken unicorn in his hand, telling him to keep it as a souvenir. (full context)