Fire Escape in The Glass Menagerie
Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie is replete with symbolism, and the fire escape is an important symbol in the play.
Leading out of the protagonists’ – the Wingfield’s – apartment, is the fire escape that has a landing. This physical structure represents an escape from the dysfunction and the fires of frustration in the Wingfield household. Tom makes his opening address to the audience from the fire escape.
Different characters see the fire escape in different ways. For Tom, the fire escape is a golden chance to get away from his nagging mother. For Amanda it is a door through which gentleman callers for Laura can come. For it is a pathway towards the unknown and the dangerous.
The fire escape in The Glass Menagerie serves two functions. One is as a tool for characterization, and the other is as a symbol for a central theme of the play, which is “escape.”
Characterization in the play is brilliantly done by means of the contrast between the two central characters: Laura and Tom. Laura, who is symbolized as the fragile glass menagerie, stumbles on the fire escape, signaling her inability to escape her life circumstances. She is helpless and fragile to the point of being unable to use an escape route. Herman (2008) suggests that Laura has a disability, which makes her socially unsuccessful and shy. This is compounded by the fact that her mother Amanda is overprotective and smothering.
Tom, on the other hand, has the will and the ability to escape from the dysfunctional family, and he often steps out on to the fire escape landing to light a smoke. His independent streak is very well demonstrated by his frequent trips to the fire escape landing. As a natural culmination of his yearning to be independent, he stands on the fire escape landing at the end of the play, ready to go out into the world and escape from the world of the glass menagerie.
The fire escape is integral to the theme of escape too in the play. Escape or the inability to escape, is a theme of The Glass Menagerie. When there is a means of escape available, do people make use of it? Alternatively, do people get caught in their own life so much that they lose the will and the ability to escape? For Laura, escape is impossible, as the only time she tries the fire escape, she stumbles. Tom, however, wants to and is able to escape. He shows that many times by moving to the fire escape landing for a smoke, and finally at the end of the play by deciding to move away from the family.
The Glass Menagerie examines the universal conflict that arises when individuals must choose between self-fulfillment and family commitment (Janardanan, 2007). The fire escape in the play is the symbol of a path to self-fulfillment, which in the end, Tom takes, though he can never really forget his mother and sister.
Herman, Terah, (2008). The Disabled Family Dynamic In Drama: The Glass Menagerie, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg And Time For Ben. University of Kentucky Master’s Theses. Paper 528. http://uknowledge.uky.edu/gradschool_theses/528
Janardanan, D. (2007). Images of Loss in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Marsha Norman’s night, Mother, and Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive. Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2007. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/english_diss/23
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Free Glass Menagerie Essays: The Character of Tom Wingfield
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The Character of Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie
Tom Wingfield is a determined young man. He has decided against everyone else in his family's wishes that he wants to leave the dismal life of a factory job, to pursue a chance in the Merchant Marines. He realizes that he would be running off like his father and this is probably the only thing that kept him from leaving this long. Amanda, Tom's mother, deep down knows the day is coming that Tom will leave. She says "But not till there's someone to take your place." She wants Laura, if not herself to be taken care of. At that moment in the play Tom is the breadwinner in the family and up to this point Tom is the underpriviledged child that wants to move on. He wants to pursue his dream, a more adventurous life. Tom was a likable character until we find out he didn't pay the electric bill with the intended money. When Jim is over and he says "I paid my dues this month, instead of the light bill". At this point, Tom becomes a more selfish character. There is less sympathy given in his direction. In fact, this is probably where we feel a little more sorry for Amanda.
Amanda has probably not done everything right for her family, but her intentions have always been good. Tom has lost patience and wants to pursue his journey away now. There's no waiting to save the money for the dues. He doesn't stop going to the movies for a week or quit smoking to save money. He takes the money for the light bill. We know this is a painfully big deal and he has intentionally hurt his family at this point. He knows he has put himself in a position of no turning back. Now, he has to go. As if to make it okay in someway, he says, ""I'm like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! See how he grins? And he's been absent going on sixteen years!" Now we know, he doesn't plan to come back. He has justified his not feeling obligated to his family by saying he gets it naturally. He is his father's son. Of course we have to decide if Tom has a choice. Is Tom withering away where he is. His family is full of dysfunction and he wants to help Laura out also.
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I don't think he would have invited Jim over if he didn't care. He probably sees Jim as her ticket out also. Maybe that way she wouldn't have missed him as much. Laura is probably the one who understand's him the best. Tom's audacity in not paying the light bill is carried over to the last scene when Amanda finds out Jim is engaged to someone else. Amanda blames Tom. She thinks Tom has "played a wonderful joke" on her and Laura. Not very funny to her. Amanda is livid that Tom has embarassed her. She thinks he has purposely "had us make such fools of ourselves". Tom honestly had no idea that Jim was to be married. He really was wrapped up in his own world. He really thought he was helping out. But, he's already the bad guy. He doesn't argue his point much, but, he is at the breaking point. Tom says "The more you shout about my selfishness to me the quicker I'll go, and I won't go to the movies!" Tom has made his intention clear and he is now going to leave.
Tom will leave regretfully. He will miss Laura, his sister. But now he is on his way. Tom really felt cornered and did the wrong thing to push himself into a corner so that he only had one way to go. Later, in his narration, Tom describes his travels as being haunted by memories of Laura and how he left her behind. Everything he would see and hear would remind him of her. He would run to another person or drink his memories away. Tom is still a pitied character, but now we see he did bring his pain onto himself by making a bad situation worse.