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Glass Menagerie: Fantasy Worlds and Their Symbolism

Everyone has their own little world in which they indulge themselves in whether it be real or just a fantasy. In The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, everyone in the play experiences their own little world, and the shock it is to be thrown from it. Tom supports his family despite his unhappiness. He tries to please Amanda by being the sole supporter of the family, but only gets rewarded by Amanda’s constant nagging and suspicion. Eventually he finds himself more like his father as he seeks adventure in the movies and in drinking.

Tom hangs out on the fire escape to avoid suffocation (in the made-up worlds of the women) and desperately seeks the life he always desired – the life of adventure. By hanging out on the fire escape, Tom finds a temporary safe haven from Amanda. With Amanda faultfinding Tom about every minute action, Tom needed to find somewhere to escape. Since Amanda and Laura have their fantasy worlds inside, Tom can easily escape them by going out on the fire escape. Perhaps, even more, the fire escape shows various things about Tom’s personality.

He does not desire to be part of any fanciful worlds, which only prove to be the downfall of Amanda and Laura. He realizes that the world is not what Amanda has made it seem inside the house. However, during his internal reflections on the fire escape, he is not really separating himself from the imaginary world because that metal frame is still attached to the apartment wall. Therefore, he is still “attached” to the fantasy domains. This shows that no matter how hard Tom tries to escape he will always be “attached”, or bounded, to the apartment.

His emotional attachments to Laura would permanently keep him there no matter what method of escaping he had attempted. With such a dull and stressful life, Tom was constantly looking for adventure like his father. Although this is only referred to a couple of times, I feel as though the portrait of Tom’s father is one of the most important symbols representing Tom. In the play, the portrait is a constant reminder to Amanda of the past she once knew and cherished. Also, it represents an option of Tom: running away.

A long time ago, Amanda’s husband abandoned her and her children because of his unhappy home life. Tom, like his father, felt that his home life was suppressing his true desires for adventure. It became seemingly impossible for Tom to enjoy himself with Amanda’s nagging. At every possible moment Tom would speak of some adventure, something much better he could be experiencing. Eventually Tom paid dues to the Union of Merchant Seamen using the money for the electric bill.

That organization symbolized his temporary escape from suffocation and a ticket to the life of adventure. “Malvoli the Magician” was an act that Tom would often see when he went to the movies every night. Malvoli’s coffin trick is a symbol of Tom’s suffocating life. Both Malvoli and Tom face life-threatening situations. In the trick, Malvoli faces death by actual suffocation if he does not successfully escape the coffin. Tom faces death by emotional and spiritual suffocation if he does not successfully escape the apartment.

Also, the coffin itself symbolizes the lifestyle Tom is trying to rid himself of. Tom views his life as a very cramped, dark situation. He greatly fears spending fifty-five years of his life in the basement of the warehouse, only making sixty-five dollars a month, and never being able to achieve his dreams. Although he loves his family, the thought of being cooped up in a lifestyle he does not desire is death in itself. Furthermore, during the coffin trick, Malvoli not only escapes, but also does it without disturbing any of the nails.

Tom claims “You know it don’t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing a single nail”. I think Amanda and Laura symbolize those nails. It would be impossible for Tom to escape his coffin without disturbing the nails. He knows it is just a matter of time before he suffocates in his coffin, but at the same time he knows his escape will upset Amanda and Laura. Throughout the play there are many symbols representing different aspects of all the characters.

From a realistic standpoint, Tom escaped from the fantasy world of Amanda and Laura by hanging out on the fire escape, even though he could never fully escape. Unfortunately for Tom, his life was cramped like the coffin and he was slowly suffocating, both emotionally and spiritually. Unhappy with the lifestyle he followed (in the footsteps of his father,) he searched for adventure, escaping the criticism of Amanda. Some people have their fantasy worlds, and chose to live in them but that does not necessarily mean it is the best for everyone.

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