In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams uses the theme of escape to portray the inutility and disparity of each of the character?s dreams. The Glass Menagerie takes place in the small, ghetto apartment of the Wingfield family. Poverty is what has trapped them in their meager living quarters. The escape from this apartment, these relationships, and this way of life is an imperative theme throughout the play. The fire escape, the dance hall, the absence of Mr. Wingfield and the unavoidable departure of Tom can all be linked to these escapes.
In the first scene, Williams mentions the ?slow and implacable fires of human desperation? (693-694) that burn in this and the neighboring apartment buildings. Tom feels the heat of these fires of desperation as he speaks to us from the fire escape in the opening scene. For each of the characters, the fire escape represents something different. For everyone in the Wingfield family, the fire escape is an icon of the transition from freedom to being surrounded by desperation. It gives the chance for Tom to get out of the apartment and away from his irritating
mother. For Amanda, the fire escape is a way for the gentleman callers to get into their lives. Laura?s escape, however, seems to be hiding inside the apartment. The fire escape is a separation of reality and the unknown.
The Paradise Dance Hall is located across the street from the Wingfield apartment. The name of the dance hall is very ironic since the Winfield?s? lives are as far from paradise as it seems possible. Laura plays the same records repeatedly to find tranquility. Maybe the music trailing from the dance hall up to the Wingfield apartment is Laura?s escape that she cannot take. ?The Glass Menagerie? plays quite often from the dance hall and provides the music for many of the scenes.
As the absent father of Tom and Laura and the husband of Amanda, Mr. Wingfiled is mentioned a number of times in the play. He is the epitome of escape in the play because he has managed to leave the desperate situation in which his family is still trapped. The photograph of him is a continuous reminder of the good old days. Tom often makes
humorous remarks about his father and how he ?fell in love with long distances.? (695) Tom tries to not to appear upset because his father abandoned him by turning the situation into a comedy. Tom speaks of the last contact with his father, a postcard from the Pacific Coast of Mexico with the contents of only two words ? Hello- Goodbye!? (695) and sadly, not even an address. It is inevitable that Tom will do the very thing that he resents most about his father, escape. Tom knows that it is possible for him to escape since his father has succeeded in doing so.
Tom escapes from reality in several ways. One way that he escapes is by the fire escape that takes him away from his desperate life in the Wingfield apartment. He also escapes by going to the movies because they take him into another realm where annoying mothers, shy sisters, and absent fathers do not exist. Amanda thinks that Tom spends too much of his time at the movies and that he needs to concentrate more on his job at the warehouse and finding Laura a husband. The more Amanda nags Tom, the more he needs the movies to escape. As
Amanda?s nagging gets increasingly persistent, Tom?s movie watching and drinking becomes more frequent. The movies are no longer enough for Tom. He tells Jim, ?I?m starting to boil inside?. (719) Finally, Tom is pushed over the edge. He seeks another escape that will allow him to walk down the fire escape for the last time. He leaves, but not without guilt. He seems overwhelmed by the guilt of abandoning Laura; everything he sees reminds him of her. Tom now realizes that leaving is not an escape at all; it is a corridor of even greater desperation.
Tom, Laura, and Amanda all sense that escape is possible. Laura attempts to escape into her fragile world of glass figurines, Amanda to her memories of the old south, and Tom to the movie theater. When it was all over, none of the Wingfields are able to actually escape from the situation. The escape theme in The Glass Menagerie that is evident in fire escape, the dance hall, Mr. Wingfield?s and Tom?s departures seem not to be feasible. This is perhaps because Williams is trying to say that you cannot solve your problems by running away from them.