The Glass Menagerie - Escape Theme


"The Glass Menagerie" is set in the apartment of the Wingfield 
family. By description, it is a cramped, dinghy place, not unlike a
jail cell. It is one of many such apartments in the neighborhood. Of 
the Wingfield family members, none of them want to live there. Poverty 
is what traps them in their humble abode. The escape from this 
lifestyle, this apartment and these relationships is a significant 
theme throughout the play. These escapes may be related to the fire 
escape, the dance hall, the absent Mr. Wingfield and Tom's inevitable 

 The play opens with Tom addressing the audience from the fire 
escape. This entrance into the apartment provides a different purpose 
for each of the characters. Overall, it is a symbol of the passage 
from freedom to being trapped in a life of desperation. The fire 
escape allows Tom the opportunity to get out of the apartment and away 
from his nagging mother. Amanda sees the fire escape as an opportunity 
for gentleman callers to enter their lives. Laura's view is different 
from her mother and her brother. Her escape seems to be hiding inside 
the apartment, not out. The fire escape separates reality and the 

 Across the street from the Wingfield apartment is the Paradise 
Dance Hall. 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. Laura appears to find solace in playing the same records 
over and over again, day after day. Perhaps the music floating up to 
the apartment from the dance hall is supposed to be her escape which 
she just can't take. The music from the dance hall often provides the 
background music for certain scenes, The Glass Menagerie playing quite 
frequently. With war ever-present in the background, the dance hall is 
the last chance for paradise.

 Mr. Wingfield, the absent father of Tom and Laura and husband to 
the shrewish Amanda, is referred to often throughout the story. He is 
the ultimate symbol of escape. This is because he has managed to 
remove himself from the desperate situation that the rest of his 
family are still living in. His picture is featured prominently on the 
wall as a constant reminder of better times and days gone by. Amanda 
always makes disparaging remarks about her missing husband, yet lets 
his picture remain. Tom always makes jokes about his dad, and how he 
"fell in love with long distances." This is his attempt to ease the 
pain of abandonment by turning it into something humorous. It is 
inevitable that the thing which Tom resents most in his father is 
exactly what Tom himself will carry out in the end...escape! 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.


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