Tennessee Williams’ main concern is to show that in this world escape is impossible

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In, ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ many of the characters do not manage to efficiently escape life of the Wingfield apartment, consequently the statement of escape being impossible, is a just statement.

The incapability to ‘escape’ from their microcosm is visible throughout the scenes. The father, Mr Wingfield, shows our first sense of escapism. A blown up picture of him still hangs on the Wingfield apartments’ living room wall. Sixteen years after he had left. His symbolism associates with Tom, because the photograph can be a persistent reminder to Tom. Mr Wingfield got away, leaving Tom to fill his shoes, and to act as the ‘stable father’ in the Wingfield family. What Tom desires is; adventure and a career, by keeping Tom at the factory, he is contributing to his deprivation of his dreams and ambition.

I think the picture of the father can show the potentiality of escaping the world of poverty, the symbol of the ‘American Dream,’ it is just a choice of when and how to escape.

In Scene 3, Tom and Amanda are arguing about Toms’ frequent trips to the cinema. The movies are Tom’s escape from his everyday existence, his dull lifestyle, as a warehouse worker. This scene illustrates, to the audience, the dependency of the family on Tom, and his escape is therefore almost impossible.

“What right have you got to jeopardise your job? Jeopardise the security of us all?” This quote conveys to the audience that Amanda is worried about loosing the stability of her family. Quite selfishly her protection, over Tom, is very compelling. She minimises his freedom, always asking why he has to go out. Tom feels a constraint to stay, but the temptation to repeat his fathers’ actions is always a presence.

“What right have you got….” demonstrates a very strong, almost suffocating language, showing us Amanda gives Tom no alternative, his escape is shattered.

This scene corresponds with the reality, at this point in time, in America, when, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ was written. The Depression was a result of stock market prices falling, a sense of destruction and collapse. I think this symbolises Laura in a way with her escapism of her ‘Glass Menagerie.’ When her glass ornaments break, so does Laura.

Williams also reflects his life throughout the story, basing the main character, Tom, on himself, working in a shoe factory.

In addition, Tom’s character reveals characterisation in Scene 4. In Scene 4, Tom tells Laura about his frequent trips to the movies, explaining in detail, a stage show, Malvolio the Magician. Tom is fascinated with the magician’s trick, when he could escape from a coffin without removing a single nail. Tom’s character can see the association between the man trapped managing to ‘escape,’ unnoticed, from the coffin, and his fathers departure, which seems to be insignificant, but is really a strong feature in the Wingfield apartment. It is inevitable that what Tom resents most from his father is escape, which in the end, manages to achieve.

The coffin trick is also completely ironic because Tom has escaped, from the apartment, to see the show, and he observes a nailed in coffin, which depicts that Tom cannot escape, and is trapped in his own life.

The fire escape is a key symbol. It is the entrance to their apartment, and where Tom stands to smoke. Tom also uses the fire escape at the end of,’ The Glass Menagerie,’ when he is speaking in soliloquy, after arguing with Amanda. This is to be Tom’s final departure, following, “in my fathers footsteps.”

‘The Glass Menagerie’ is a ‘memory play’, in my opinion, Tom’s character smoking symbolises this. It shows his unclear memories and the dreamy atmosphere, also shown to us through stage direction, “…dimly lighted, it is sentimental…”

Laura slips on the fire escape in scene 4. It causes slight disruption in the apartment. Some critics would argue that the fire escape accident illustrates Laura’s lack of ability to manage on her own, in the outside world, her flaw of insecurity.

Others would cite it suggests how Laura is unable to escape her pleurosis disease; she has, as a child.

Throughout the story, Amanda demonstrates her own escapism, into her own secure microcosm. She conceals the aspect of Laura’s disability, and when she arranges ‘gentleman callers’ she is always hopeful about Laura’s future, it is Tom to try to make Amanda realise Laura is different. A quote that shows this is towards the end of scene 5, Amanda is trying to persuade Tom to arrange for Jim to visit Laura.

“Don’t say crippled…”

“But face facts, Mother. She is…”

When Laura feels threatened she tries to escape from her situation, using her mechanism of illness to contain her apprehension of others. “I’m sick!” Possibly Laura believes her feelings are being neglected, and to act as if she is ill, may get her attention she so extensively desires. Facing reality is hard for Laura; she frequently retreats to playing the victrola.

The most prominent symbol of escapism for Laura, and the play as a whole, is Laura’s glass menagerie. Laura is extremely shy and lacks confidence, mainly due to her disability. Her escape into a fantasy world of glass animals intensifies her distance from reality, isolating her even more.

When glass ornaments are broken, we see Laura’s emotional state change dramatically. Her whole world seems to shatter around her. When Tom goes to leave at the end of scene 7, he smashes a glass. “Laura screams.” By Laura screaming she is demonstrating fragility when an event like smashing glass occurs, possibly reminding her of her unicorns’ horn breaking. Laura spends a lot of time with her glass animals, showing the audience; perhaps she would like to be paid more attention.

Referring back to Jim breaking the unicorns’ horn, Laura gives Jim the ornament as a souvenir. She has escaped the ‘over protectiveness’ of her collection. By offering Jim this souvenir, she is offering Jim an,’ escape’ from his life, into her dream existence.

The ending of the play, Tom leaves to join the Merchant Navy, though is still unable to completely escape, as there are constant reminders of Laura. “I pass the lighted window of a shop…pieces of coloured glass…”

The glass in shop windows remind Tom of Laura and her secure surroundings with her glass menagerie.

The majority of characters are unable to escape completely from the real world, as they are still tied to their microcosm, the Wingfield apartment.

Mr Wingfield has managed to escape from the hopeless situation the family are in. He has managed to escape possibly through envisaging the position the family will adhere to, so if he doesn’t escape to pursue a career, he will be burdened with supporting the family, missing out on his adventure.

Jim escapes from the potential relations with Laura, as he is already engaged to Betty, but in a sense Jim is also minimising his escape, as marriage could be seen as tying himself down.

Even when Tom is physically free from the apartment, he is not mentally free, and can never escapes for a life of adventure like he saw in the movies because he will always have the thoughts of Laura.

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