The Glass Menagerie Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the play, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes to Look For and Discuss

Dreams and Expectations

Tom’s dreams are to become a merchant sailor and travel the world. He feels like the world is passing him by while he is standing still. He says that people go to the movies to watch other people move, while they themselves stay in one place. Laura’s expectations in life are also not adding up to what she’d hoped they would be. Since high school, her anxiety has gripped her to the point that she hasn’t done much of anything. Her dreams are encapsulated in her glass figurines, which are beautiful and seem to have lives of their own, but never go beyond the boundaries of the apartment. Amanda’s own dreams and expectations in life have also fallen flat, starting when her husband left her, and continuing as she watches her children float through life without purpose. The dreams and expectations the characters have in their own lives don’t live up to what they’ve hoped, as many dreams and expectations fail us throughout our own lives.

The Power of Memory

The play is called a memory play, and because of this, the characters and events are tinged by Tom’s own recollection of events and people. Light plays an important role in highlighting characters’ emotions, and the emotions of particular scenes, including anger and romance. Tom likens his sister’s state of mind to pieces of glass, which reminds him of her whenever he sees one. Since memory changes with time, and Tom is plagued by guilt, it leads one to question just how fragile Laura really was, and just how spirited in her pursuit of a gentleman caller for her daughter Amanda was. In addition, in memory, some things are more exaggerated because of their emotional value, which is the real driver of memory.

Duty to Family

Tom works many hours a day each week because he is the sole provider for Amanda and Laura. He feels obligated to stick around, because he sees the damage his father caused when he ran off. Even more so, he sees Laura as something fragile and in need of being taken care of, like glass. He loves her, and he seems reluctant to leave her with Amanda. Ultimately, Tom must make a choice between following his own hopes and dreams, and remaining in the apartment with his mother and sister to make sure they are taken care of. His choice plagues him with guilt for many years afterwards.

Societal Pressures

The typical route for a young woman during this era is to have a profession, whether it be as a secretary or a teacher, and then move on to marry a man who will take care of her and their inevitable children. Some women are expected to marry right away. Amanda expects her daughter to follow in her footsteps: to entertain many worthy gentleman callers and settle on one, while she finishes business school. Unfortunately, Laura is not following this proscribed path. Tom, as the man of the house, is expected to take care of his mother and sister; however, he will soon also be expected to take a wife of his own. At some point in the distant future, as Tom narrates the play, we see that this has not yet happened for him, either.

Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Glass Menagerie

The glass menagerie collection mirrors Laura’s own inner self. It is fragile and delicate, with a beauty that comes out with light, and with people who bring out that light. Unfortunately, however, the glass collection is not really useful for anything other than admiration; it does not have a function. Laura is like the glass collection in that sense as well, because in the six years since high school she has not really done very much with her life, and seems to have no plans to do anything, either.

The Gentleman Caller

Tom himself says that the gentleman caller is not really the point of the play; instead, it is a symbol of “the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.” The gentleman caller gives Amanda purpose, in order to ensure a good future for her flailing daughter. The caller is also another source of anxiety for Laura, who is unsure of how to live up to his, or her mother’s expectations of being a woman who can lure in and keep a man.

The Movies

The movies are an escape for Tom from his duties at home to his sister and mother, and from the societal pressures that keep him stuck in his position at the shoe warehouse. Tom sees the movies as a way to live life vicariously through the characters on the screen, to travel and move as much as they do. He dreams of leaving the small apartment, becoming a merchant sailor, and seeing the world – having adventures just like the characters in the movies do.


Light is used to highlight the beauty of things that have emotional attachments to Tom in his memory. The rose-colored light of the lamp in the living room, for instance, seems to reflect an inner light coming from Laura as she gets to know Jim O’Connor. Light also plays off of the glass figurines in her menagerie, highlighting their inner beauty, a symbol of her own. The lights going out in the apartment create a mood of romance and mystery with the candles, but ultimately also create a mood of despair as Jim breaks Laura’s hopes, and Tom finally runs away.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Glass Menagerie. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Identify the theme(s) from The Glass Menagerie you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  2. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  3. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme


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