Escape Theme in the Glass Menagerie
If you ask a bunch of people to describe life in a single word, the most popular answer would probably be “rollercoaster.” Unlike fairytales, things do not always go as planned, and in a few cases, people end up in what seems like a pile of problems. Human beings often try to escape reality to avoid these problems. With a strong desire to escape, we turn to video games, movies, music, travel, and in worst cases, even drugs or alcohol. This “escape” enables us to feel as if there are no dilemmas and it constructs a fantasy world where we can dodge the barrage of the negative stressors in our life.
Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie focuses on escapism. Escapism can be summarized as the act of avoiding the difficulties of everyday life. Tom, Laura, and Amanda Wingfield all try to practice escapism to avoid their unfortunate circumstances in their various ways. The Glass Menagerie depicts the idea that reality can be painful to accept and that we often turn to a method of escape rather than facing our problems.
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In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda Wingfield’s method of escape is living in the past. Not only does this show how much she resents the life she lives, but it also supports the idea that she would preferably live another one. For example, she states that “the most prominent young planters of the Mississippi Delta – planter and sons of planters”(1134; scene 2) were formerly her gentlemen callers. Her statement illustrates her infatuation with believing that she is in a greater state. Despite the fact that she lives in poverty, she finds comfort in thinking that she was once a part of an affluent family. Amanda’s failure to accept reality can also be expressed by her inability to realize Laura’s oddness and peculiarity. She believes that Laura is as perfect as can be and can charm a lot of gentleman callers even though she is “very different from other girls… terribly shy and lives in a world of her own” (1152; scene 5). She ignores Laura’s faults and replaces them with a perfect, yet the false image that she wishes were real. Through escapism, Amanda can dodge the facts, thus helping her avoid the hardships in the miserable life she lives.
Laura Wingfield shakes her troubles by using the work of her imagination to create a world full of fantasies. As a shy, introverted person with a disability that impairs her movement, she retreats to her glass menageries and lives in “a world of her own” (1152; scene 5). She can be seen playing with her glass menagerie like a child with his or her toys. These scenes enable the audience to see how she truly is, which can be compared to a child who has zero connection with the world she lives in. She also personifies her glass figurines and gives them a life of their own. For example, she mentions that the unicorn is her favorite out of the whole collection and states that it “gets along nicely” with the horses (1169; scene 7). The unicorn figurine can be seen as a symbolism for Laura’s character, highlighting the fact that she recognizes her disabilities/uniqueness and knows she is not like everyone. She understands that she is just a unicorn trying to fit in in a world full of horses. Unlike Amanda’s escape, Laura’s is an unusual one. It helps to paint a vivid picture of how Williams wants the audience to feel about Laura. In her case, Laura relies on her fantasies to flee reality.
In other cases, imagination is not enough to escape. With a strong desire to move away from the apartment and his mother, Tom relies on alcohol, writing poems and most importantly, the movies. Like many of us, Tom turns to the entertainment that watching a movie offers to fill the void in his life. Williams establishes Tom’s obsession for escape through the movies when he writes: “I go to the movies because – I like adventure… something I do not have much of at work” (1145; scene 4). This illustrates his desire for something he currently lacks in his life. Going to the movies is not just a mental break, but it is also a physical one as he gets separation away from his family. In scene four, Tom describes a scene from an entertainment show involving an escape artist escaping through a nailed coffin without removing a single nail. Tom claims that this trick “would come in handy” for him to get him out of the “two-by-four situation” (1143; scene 4). Williams uses the coffin as a metaphor of Tom’s life in the apartment, in which he feels trapped and suffocated. The nails are what keeps him “nailed” from achieving his dreams and aspirations. In this case, they symbolize his mother and more importantly his disabled sister whom he truly cares about. It paints a picture that if he does not escape, he will die and that to escape, he must remove the nails. Williams uses this scene to demonstrate Tom’s biggest desire which is to live a life that is free without removing his family.
Williams uses living in the past, glass figurines, and the movies to inform and educate the reader about the art of escapism in The Glass Menagerie. With the use of escapism, Amanda, Laura, and Tom Wingfield were able to forget about their current situation, peculiarity and the feeling of entrapment. However, as demonstrated in the play, it is not guaranteed that we will always have a place to run. In other words, there are situations where we will be forced to face our problems head-on. The story is striking in the eyes of the reader because it is a topic we can all relate to. At one point we all get swallowed up by stress from work, school, or just by life in general. The countless hours we do not realize we spend playing video games, binge-watching movies on Netflix and even the short trip to Target is something we do to stay away from these negative stressors. Like the characters in the story, we all retreat to different places because it helps us cope with our stress. This need for escape from reality drives us away from our problems, and while doing this, we do not realize that accepting our reality gets us closer to finding a solution to all of our problems