The Glass Menagerie Fire Escape Symbolism

The Glass Menagerie is a play written by Tennessee Williams in 1944. The play takes place in St. Louis, Missouri, over one week of Tom Wingfield’s life during the Great Depression. The story focuses on Laura Wingfield and her struggle with mental illness/schizophrenia while being constantly reminded of the past by her mother Amanda Wingfield, and teased by her younger brother Tom. The Glass Menagerie is often looked upon as one of Tennessee William’s most symbolic pieces of writing in his career.

The much-analyzed play has many different themes including the ongoing struggles with mental illness/schizophrenia, familial relationships, and memories that plague each character throughout their lifetime. The set takes place on a “fire escape” outside of an apartment called the Wingfield Residence: The play focuses on this fire escape quite a bit during its narrative; however it can be deemed an important symbol for The Glass Menagerie as a whole.

The symbolism behind the fire escape changes depending on what point in time it is being analyzed (past, present or future). Regardless of where the fire escape is being situated, The Glass Menagerie nearly always has an underlying idea of using the fire escape as a central symbol to represent what The Wingfield Family is feeling. The play begins with Tom waking up from a nap on the “fire escape” in order to get some air.

The stage directions are even more descriptive about where he falls asleep saying that “the fire escape [is] symbolic of future hopes. ” The notion of ‘future hopes’ gives the audience an insight to how much this specific moment means for character development within the story specifically when juxtaposed against other parts of The Glass Menagerie. The past, present and possibly even future all return time and time again to the notion that Fire Escape is just another way The Wingfield Family is trying to cope with its troubled past and present problems.

The fire escape in The Glass Menagerie’s narrative takes on many different forms depending on what moment within the play it is being analyzed in: The fire escape can be used as a way of remembering specific, or even repressed memories that The Wingfields have struggled with for years. The Fire Escape becomes a pivotal part of who The Wingfields are symbolically, and without it The Glass Menagerie would not be able to maintain such high levels of character development. The most common time throughout The Glass Menagerie when we see the “fire escape” mentioned is directly after Laura has one of her ‘attacks’.

She oftentimes retreats to this area outside and cries and screams. The audience can gather that Laura has had these ‘attacks’ for quite some time. The fact that Laura retreats to the fire escape after such events implies that this is where she feels most comfortable when dealing with her mental illness. The fire escape is therefore used as a way of coping/reliving past memories because The Glass Menagerie has been analyzed by many different scholars who have agreed that The Wingfield family struggles with their past heavily, which in return fuels present problems.

Another example of where the “fire escape” takes on a symbolic meaning is in Tom’s section of The Glass Menagerie. In his monologue he often talks about what it would be like if he were able to leave home and take a job. The “fire escape” is seen as a way of escaping The Wingfield Residence. The connotation of Tom wanting to leave his family coincides with The Glass Menagerie being analyzed as a story about coping with the past, present problems and possible future consequences because Tom longs for something he does not have that would ultimately help him cope in the long run: A ‘future hope’.

The play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is a journey through the characters’ lives and their struggles with mental illness, which can be seen in many symbols throughout the play. The fire escape is one of them. In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee William uses symbolism to create a better understanding of his character’s day-to-day life. The most prominent symbol in The Glass Menagerie is the fire escape.

The fire escape is used as a metaphor for many different themes throughout The Glass Menagerie; Tom’s longing for adventure, Laura’s sexual repression, Amanda’s loneliness/isolation, and also Jim O’Connor’s presence. This essay will discuss how each of these ideas are symbolized through the fire escape imagery but will focus on Laura’s sexual repression. The fire escape is the most prevalent symbol in The Glass Menagerie Laura, like many young women in The Glass Menagerie, is restricted to her home which she views as a prison or “cage”.

The house that Amanda and Laura live in is very small; with only one bedroom for the two sisters with no door separating them . It is not surprising then that Laura spends most of her time outside on the fire escape. The fire escape has become Laura’s place of release; an area where she is free from the overbearing presence of her mother and the suffocating environment inside their apartment. As seen through her final speech given at Jim O’Connor’s party, it also serves as a place of solitude where she can think about life and her dreams away from the rest of the world.

The fire escape is a place for Laura to express herself through her poetry, but it also a place where she can fantasize about being with Jim O’Connor as they share his cigarette. The final image of the play The Glass Menagerie shows Tom, Amanda, and Laura sitting together on their “porch” or fire escape. The glass menagerie has been destroyed by a tornado that occurred during the climax of The Glass Menagerie, so it appears as if they have nowhere else to go .

The liberation of living outside in the open air symbolizes how Tom’s perspective on life has changed leaving home and going out into the real world. The only difference is that the apartment in The Glass Menagerie was small and confined, but the outside world has allowed Laura to spread her wings. The fire escape is not only a symbol of Laura’s sexual repression, but it also represents Tom Wingfield’s desire for something more than his hometown. The fire escape serves as a metaphorical barrier between what used to be and what could be.

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