In The Glass Menagerie, what is the symbolism of lightning and candlelight?
In his introduction to the play, Tom establishes that the setting is the 1930s. At the end of the play, Tom makes his reference to the world now being "lit by lightning." This is an allusion to World War II which began in Europe in the very late 1930s, with the United States entering the war in December 1941. Lightning, then, becomes symbolic of the chaos, death, and destruction of war.
The candlelight motif is found throughout the play, especially in Laura's scene with Jim O'Connor and in the final scene when Tom acts as narrator to conclude the drama. In contrast to lightning, candlelight is soft and concealing; it creates momentary illusion. Candlelight blurs the edges of reality. Within the shabby apartment, Laura sought to escape the reality within which she could not live or function. In the apartment lit by candles, she falls into a momentary illusion of romance. Candlelight, like Laura, is fragile. It flickers but soon goes out, just as Laura's momentary connection to life while in Jim's company was soon extinguished.