Free Glass Menagerie Essays: Symbols

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Symbols in The Glass Menagerie


In the play, The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, Williams uses many symbols which represent many different things.  Many of the symbols used in the play try to symbolize some form of escape or difference 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" seems to be a one way excursion.  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 a world of new dimensions.  For Laura, the fire escape is a way into her own world. A way to escape from reality.  Amanda perceives the fire escape as a way for gentlemen callers to enter their lives.  She is also trying to escape her own vacant life.  Our author, Tennessee Williams utilizes the fire escape as a literal exit from his own reality as well.  His way of escaping is through the play.  In Tom's opening speech, he says, "I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."  This quote refers to Williams' own life told through the play.  Everyone in the play seeks haven from their lives, attempting to escape into an imaginary fallacy world.  In "The Glass Menagerie," Williams' fire escape portrays each of the character's need to use the fire escape as a literal exit from their own reality.

    The Glass Menagerie is set in the apartment of the Wingfield family.  By description, it is a cramped place located in the city of St. Louis.  It is one of many apartments in the neighborhood.  Of the Wingfield family members, none like living in the apartment.  The only reason that traps them in their submissive dwelling is poverty.  The concept of escaping their own lives and retreating into an illusion world has entered each of the character's minds.   Escaping from this lifestyle, this apartment, and these relationships is a significant theme throughout the play.  These escapes are linked with the symbolic "fire escape" as well as the absent Mr. Wingfield.

    Mr. Wingfield left his family for a life on the road.  "He worked for the telephone company and fell in love with long distances."  This action left Tom with all of the responsibilities in the family including taking care of his half-mad, overbearing mother, Amanda and a disabled sister, Laura.

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  With all of the responsibilities on Tom's shoulders he is forced to take a job at a warehouse in order to take care of the family and pay rent. Tom is unsatisfied with his life and is always seeking for a way to escape his misery.  In Tom's eyes, the fire escape serves as a transit between "truth" and "illusion."  It detaches reality of the outside world, which in this case, the city of St. Louis, from the world of the Wingfields.  Tom's way of dealing with his misery is to remove himself from his locale and go to the movies.  He claims that he loves the adventure.  "I go to the movies because- I like adventure.  Adventure is something I don't have much of at work, so I go to the movies" (p. 415).  

    Amanda seeks for an escape from her own empty life. She had high hopes of marrying a wealthy man but instead, she settled for a telephone man who eventually abandons her and the kids.  This incident made Amanda live her life in bitterness and paranoia. "The future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it" (p. 421).  She constantly nags at Tom's habits and tries to contour Laura into the girl that she wasn't.  Amanda repeatedly lectures and corrects her children on how to present themselves, how to live life, and how to act.  She tries to take control of her children's lives as if she is trying to fit them in a mold of perfection.  "Try and you will SUCCEED!  Why, you - you're just full of natural endowments!  Both of my children - they're unusual children! Don't you think I know it? I'm so proud! Happy and - I feel I've - so much to be thankful for" (p. 414).  Amanda has two fears in her life.  One of her worst fears is having Tom grow up to be his father. "Promise, son, you'll - never be a drunkard!" (p. 414).  "When I see you taking after his ways! Staying out late - and - well, you had been drinking the night you were in that - terrifying condition" (p. 415).  Amanda's other fear in life is having Laura grow old without a gentleman caller.  "We have to be making plans and provisions for her. She just drifts along doing nothing. It frightens me terribly how she just drifts along" (p. 416).  Tom suggested to Amanda that Laura just might be what people call home girls but Amanda refuses to believe it.  "There's no such type, and if there is, it's a pity! 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.  This could explain why Williams' childhood was "lonely and miserable."  He did not have a male figure to look up to.  Williams' method of coping with all of these issues is through the story.

     "The Glass Menagerie," exhibited an array of symbolism.  Williams' fire escape represents the "bridge" between truth and illusion.  The use of the fire escape altered for each character depending on their own issues.  Williams' fire escape portrayed each of the character's need to utilize the fire escape as a literal exit from their own reality.  Everyone in the play searches for a refuge from their lives, entering into a fantasy world.


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