How Does Williams Explore the Theme of Entrapment in the Glass Menagerie?

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The characters in this play seek flight – How does Williams explore the themes of entrapment and flight?

Tennessee Williams explores the theme of entrapment and flight through symbolism and motifs that depict a want for escape, relationships that portray entrapment of each other and conventions of a play, such as scenery, stage directions, narrative and dialogue that heighten these ideas as a whole.

The opening scene sketches out the scenery and initial symbol of entrapment for all the characters - the flat which is ‘always burning with the slow implacable fires of human depression’. As Williams describes, the flat is a symbol of depression, formulated by the era the play was set in, the 1930s - just after the Wall St. Crash, in which America suffered great economic depression. The words “burning” and ‘fires’ link into the main symbol that literally attaches itself to the flat: the fire escape. Williams describes it as ‘accidental poetic truth’, telling us that this is not only an escape from tangible fire, but also an escape from the ‘fires of human depression’ - not only the economic depression of society, but in many ways the depression of the Wingfield family themselves. As it is the only entrance into the Wingfield apartment, it is in essence, their only escape.

Williams explores this symbol further through his character Tom, who frequently goes out to smoke on the fire escape in an attempt to escape the reality of his home. For example, in Scene 5, Tom goes outside to smoke and talks to the audience about how the “world was waiting for bombardments” - showing Tom’s desire for adventure - foreshadowing his flight in Scene 7. Opposite to this, showing the difference in character, Laura trips up on the fire escape in Scene 4. This shows how Laura is unable to truly escape the flat and, in many ways, does not seek flight, but is more, hurt when attempting to seek flight. This links into the symbolism of the broken glass unicorn in Scene 7, in which Jim attempts to free Laura from her shyness and peculiarity; however, in the end, Jim shatters Laura emotionally, breaking off the horn of the unicorn.

Relating back to the era of depression and the idea of ‘escapism’, Tom, as Williams’ protagonist, explores the concept of escape in various forms, such as books, the cinema and his own poetry. For example, in Scene 3, Amanda takes away Tom’s book by D. H. Lawrence, who was a contemporary writer of the time, that allowed Tom to escape into his stories. When Amanda took this away, it led to an argument between the two, emphasising the importance of escapism to Tom and how, without it, he could not entirely cope with the reality of his situation. The idea of escaping to the cinema links into the want for adventure, this is also highlighted in Scene 3, when Tom talks of going to ‘opium dens’ and joining the ‘Hogan Gang’ whilst ‘leading a double-life’ and occasionally being called ‘El Diablo’ - all of these ideas are inspired by films and through sarcastically describing how he is all these, outlines the fact he feels his lifestyle is dull and without adventure - against, showing Tom seeking flight.

However, Tom wanting to seek flight conflicts with his awareness that he will disrupt Amanda and Laura’s life by abandoning them. This is evident in scene, through Williams’ use of the ‘magic coffin trick’ as a symbol of how Tom wishes to be. Whilst the magician is able to escape from the coffin without removing the nails, Tom is aware of how he is unable to escape from his family without disrupting Laura or Amanda’s lives. Here, the coffin in symbolic of Tom’s family and the warehouse - how he finds it to entrap him as though he were in a coffin, giving negative connotations of being suppressed and without choice. In many ways, however, this scene also explores how Tom is trapped emotionally by his care for his family, particularly Laura. Tom confides in her his feelings and thoughts of wanting to escape like the...
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