Symbols are defined as "objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts" (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/menagerie/themes.html). The four major symbols in the play are: Laura's Glass Menagerie; the Fire Escape; the Glass Unicorn; and "Blue Roses."
Critics have agreed that Laura's glass menagerie refers to her imaginary world as well as the shattering of this imaginary world (http://summarycentral.tripod.com/theglassmenagerie.htm). Moreover, critics say that Laura's glass menagerie is a reflection of her own self that is delicate and fragile and needs to be handled carefully. It is the illusion into which she devotes most of her time and energy (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/menagerie/themes.html).
Careful attention is given by Laura on her glass menagerie as introduced in scene 2, "She is washing and polishing her collection of glass" (294; sc. 2). It has also become so much a part of Laura's life that when Tom's coat hit it, "Laura cries out as if wounded" (299; sc. 3). She finds solace and significance in the glass menagerie in the midst of the outbursts and quarrels of her mother Amanda and brother Tom, and her physical disability. When asked by Jim what she is doing, she replies: "My glass collection takes up a good deal of time. Glass is something you have to take good care of" (319; sc.7). This statement shows that she associates her own significance in the role she plays as keeper and protector of such fragile objects. In her imaginary world, her collections do not complain nor argue and they get along together nicely, "I haven't heard any arguments among them!" (321; sc.7). In the presence of her collection, the world is peaceful and safe.
Another important symbol is the fire escape which has served as the family's entrance and exit of their house. The term itself stands for escape from the world of chaos and frustration. According to critics it stands for Tom's and Laura's escape from the troubling world with Amanda, however Laura slips when she passes through it as an indication that she cannot fully be separated from Amanda (http://summarycentral.tripod.com/theglassmenagerie.htm). Still, critics agree that the fire escape is an escape from the furnace of the family's frustrations and disappointments in life (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/menagerie/themes.html).
The fire escape has been the regular entry and exit points of Tom; he gets in when he comes home from work and the movies and he gets out whenever he could no longer stand the bickering of his mother. It is in the fire exit landing where he smokes as if contemplating his eventual escape from his responsibility and captivity with his family. For Laura, it symbolizes her inability to escape from the grim reality when she slips in going out to do an errand, "I'm all right. I slipped,