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Important Symbols and Themes of The Glass Menagerie

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Introduction

Important Symbols and Themes of The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams' play, The Glass Menagerie is considered a memory play because it is told from the memory of the narrator. The narrator, who is also a character, is Tom Wingfield, the youngest member of the Wingfield family. The other characters are Amanda Wingfield, his mother; Laura Wingfield, his older sister; and Jim O'Connor the gentleman caller. A fifth character is represented by the photograph of Mr. Wingfield, who left the family a long time ago. It is this departure by Mr. Wingfield that represents the theme of escape throughout the play. The Glass Menagerie is set in the apartment of the Wingfield family during the mid 1930's. By description, it is a cramped, dinghy place, similar to a jail cell. Of the Wingfield family members, none of them want to live there. Poverty is what traps them to live within their present environment. Williams uses many symbols to help the Wingfield's escape their surroundings, and differentiate between reality and illusion. The first symbol, presented in the first scene, is the fire escape. This represents the "bridge" between the illusory world of the Wingfields and the world of reality. This "bridge" may be a one-way passage, but the direction varies for each character. For Tom, the fire escape is the way out of the world of Amanda and Laura, and an entrance into the world of reality. Amanda sees the fire escape as an opportunity for gentleman callers to enter their lives. This would be an example of reality entering the Wingfields illusionary lives. For Laura, the fire escape represents a way to hide from reality by staying inside the illusionary world of the apartment. Across the street from the Wingfield apartment is the "Paradise Dance Hall" (Williams 252). Just the name of the place is a total anomaly in the story. Life with the Wingfields is as far from paradise as it could possibly be. ...read more.

Middle

That is unless the home is hers, with a husband" (p. 416). Therefore, Amanda sees the fire escape as a way to escape her own problems and invite gentlemen callers into their lives for Laura. Laura has issues of her own and she also finds the need to escape them. Laura leads a life of simplicity and has a difficult time dealing with the outside world. "I put her in business college - a dismal failure! Frightened her so it made her sick to her stomach. I took her over to the Young People's League at the church. Another fiasco. She spoke to nobody, nobody spoke to her" (p. 417). Even though, Laura sees the fire escape as a literal exit from her reality, her way of escaping differs from that of her mother and brother's. For her, escape is hiding inside the apartment. At a young age, Laura suffered from an illness called pluerosis that forced her to be slightly crippled. The illness made Laura become anti-social and insecure about herself. "I- I never had much luck at making friends" (p. 436). She dropped out of high school due to being ill and for the next six years she has done nothing but start a glass collection in which she calls it her "glass menagerie." For her, escape is hiding inside the apartment. The fire escape sets apart the unfamiliar life outside of her shielded life. Our author, Tennessee Williams, uses the fire escape as well. His escape is through the story of the play. The play represents Williams' own distraught family. The characters in the play are intended to depict his family members. Laura is modeled after his sister, Rose, who too, had various mental issues. Tom's character reflects Williams' hunger to escape his responsibilities of the family and lead a life of adventure due to his absent father. Growing up, Williams could not rely on his father much because he was an alcoholic. ...read more.

Conclusion

Through his father, Tom has seen that escape is possible, and though he is hesitant to leave his sister and even his mother behind, he is being driven to it. Tom escapes reality in many different ways. The first and most obvious is the fire escape that leads him away from his desolate home. Another would be the movies that Amanda is always nagging him about. She thinks he spends too much time watching movies and that he should work harder and find a suitable companion for Laura. The more Amanda nags, the more Tom needs his movie escapes. They take him to another world for a while, where mothers and sisters and runaway fathers do not exist. As the strain gets worse, the movie watching becomes more frequent, as does Tom's drinking. It is getting harder and harder for Tom to avoid real life. The time for a real departure is fast approaching. Amanda eventually pushes him over the edge, almost forcing him out, but not without laying overpowering guild trips on him. Tom leaves, but his going away is not the escape that he craved for so long. The guilt of abandoning Laura is overwhelming. He cannot seem to get over it. Everything he sees is a reminder of her. Tom is now truly following in the footsteps of his father. Too late, he is realizing that leaving is not an escape at all, but a path of even more powerful desperation. Williams uses the theme of escape throughout "The Glass Menagerie" to demonstrate the hopelessness and futility of each character's dreams. Tom, Laura and Amanda all seem to think, incorrectly I might add, that escape is possible. In the end, no character makes a clean break from the situation at hand. The escape theme demonstrated in the fire escape, the dance hall, Mr. Wingfield and Tom's departure prove to be a dead end in many ways. Perhaps Tennessee Williams is trying to send a message that running away is not the way to solve life's problems. The only escape in life is solving your problems, not avoiding them. ...read more.

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