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Symbolism in "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams

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Symbolism in "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams

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"I have a poet's weakness for symbols." So states Tom Wingfield, narrator and major character in Tennessee William's timeless play "The Glass Menagerie". Through the eyes of Tom, the viewer gets a glance into the life of his family in the pre-war depression era; his mother, a southern belle desperately clinging to the past, his sister, a young woman too fragile to function in society, and himself, a struggling young poet working at a warehouse to pay the bills. Williams, through his remarkable use of symbols, is able to effectively express the theme of "The Glass Menagerie" : That of hopeful aspirations followed by inevitable disappointment, having dreams which are destroyed by the harsh realities of the world.

Symbols are a major part of this play, as Tom, the narrator, is a poet, and admits he has a weakness for symbols. One major symbol presented in the story is that of the fire escape, a symbol that has a different meaning and function for each character. For Tom, it is a means of escape from fire, not the type of fire that was considered in its building, but "the slow and implacable fires of human desperation." This is especially true of Tom's apartment. His mother, devastated after her daughter Laura's failure to cope in business college, becomes obsessed with finding her a gentleman caller so that she can marry and be well supported. When this caller finally comes, and it seems like it was meant to be, as they dance and kiss, he announces he is engaged, and dashes their hopes. The ever-fragile Laura, temporarily drawn out of her dream-world shell of her glass collection and the victrola, draws further back into herself. Now a terrible desperation fills the apartment, and Tom decides he must escape the suffocating environment to follow his own calling. The fire escape to him represents a path to the outside world. For Laura, the fire escape is exactly the opposite--a path to the safe world inside, a world in which she can hide. Especially symbolic is...