Symbolism plays an integral part in Williams’s play, The Glass Menagerie. Examples of the use of symbolism include the fire escape, as an escape from the family, the phonograph, as an escape from reality, the unicorn, as a symbol for Laura's uniqueness and the father’s photograph, representing something different to each character. Through regonition of these symbols, a greater understanding of the play’s theme is achieved.
Throughout the play, Tom Wingfield was torn by a responsibility he felt for his mother and sister and the need to be his own man. He used the fire escape most in the play. He went outside to stand on it when he smoked, to escape the nagging from his mother, and to make his final independence from his family.
Tom didn't like being responsible for his mother and sister, working day-in and day-out at a job he hated. He wanted to escape down those stairs and never come back. In scene V Tom speaks to the audience about what he observes from the fire escape, Paradise Dance Hall. The dance hall to him was what he wanted, everyone was living exciting lives "hot swing music and liquor, dance halls, bars and movies, and sex that hung in the gloom..." Tom longed to live a more exciting life. In the final scene Tom says "I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father's footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space." Tom wanted to be free and to him the fire escape was the exit into freedom.
Movies were also an important part of Tom's life. He went to the movies when he and his mother argued or when he felt he needed some excitement. In scene IV Amanda asks "Why do you go to the movies so much, Tom?" and...
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...nger; anger that he's abandon them and is doing what he wants.
The symbols used in the play are a means of escape. For Tom it's the movies and the fire escape, for Laura it's the Victrola and her glass and for the father, it's his picture. He's escaped from the responsibility of raising and paying for their family.
Works Cited and Consulted
Beattie, Elisabeth L. "The Glass Menagerie." Masterplots, ed. Frank M. Magill. Revised Second Ed. Vol. 5. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1996.
Bigsby, C. W. E. "Entering the Glass Menagerie." The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams, ed. Matthew C. Roudane. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Williams, Tennessee. Conversations with Tennessee Williams, ed. Albert Devlin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1995.
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