The theme of escape is tied in with the other themes, disillusionment and disappointment. Tom is the master at escaping, going to the movies every night to free himself from both the confines of the apartment and his Mother's constant correcting and instructing. He longs to shed the responsibility of taking care of his mother and sister, dreaming of adventure. He hates his job at the warehouse, he resents having to work in a shoe factory, he wants to be a writer.
Tom is the character who is on the edge or closest to escaping. Even when he is at home in the apartment, he is allowed a temporary escape, he goes outside on the fire escape to smoke or distance himself from his mother.
Amanda needs to escape from the gloom and hopelessness of her everyday life. She has no future to look forward to, she has nothing going on in her life except her absolute need to improve the future for her children. She wants Tom to avoid becoming like his father. She is desperate to see Laura settled, now focusing on marriage rather than a job.
So to ease her discomfort with her present situation, she escapes into her memories of her youth. She talks about her life in Blue Mountain when she was a popular girl who had 17 gentleman callers one Sunday. Whether Amanda's memories are true or not we don't know for certain, they probably are, maybe just exaggerated.
Laura has the simplest life and the simplest escape. Content in the apartment, Laura escapes from her mother's criticism and constant planning of her life by playing the old records on the phonograph and by polishing her glass menagerie. She finds great comfort in her pieces of glass. Laura is actually the least unhappy person in the play.
At times "the world is too much" for Amanda, Tom, and Laura and they retreat into illusions. For the delicate Laura who is painfully shy and insecure, her inability to function in the world, to have normal relationships with people, causes her to become physically ill. She, therefore, retreats to her glass menagerie or to the records that her father has left behind which she listens to on the vitrola. Tom writes poetry and dreams of a life of adventure away from his family and tedious job at a shoe factory; he considers running from his responsibility of caring for the women in his family as his father has done while Amanda retreats from her disappointments in the family through her reminiscences of her past when "sixteen gentlemen callers" came one Sunday-- a number which is most likely exaggerated.
Ironically, the fire escape provides anything but escape for Amanda and Laura. For, within the home, their peculiarities are either harmless or an asset to their setting, but in the outside world they encounter difficulties. Laura's shyness does not deter her from interacting with her family and her delicateness is appropriate for her enjoyment of the glass figures and attractive to Jim. In addition, she is a comfort to Tom and a source for Amanda's nurturing while she is perceived as weak and deficit in society. Amanda's stories of the Old South are charming to the "gentleman caller," Jim O'Connor, but when she employs her Southern charm on the phone as she solicits subscriptions, a woman hangs up on her. Even for Tom the fire escape does not represent total escape because he is still tied to his mother and sister emotionally at the end of the play.
Each of the characters has a hard time facing reality. The main character Tom longs to leave just like his father did. At home he is ridiculed by his mother, and he feels trapped in his job. He's a free spirit who'd rather be reading or writing. He is the one character who is able to escape in this story.
Amanda, the mother, struggles with reality as well. She never does get away from it. She constantly hovers over Tom, and she never gets Laura to fit into society. This is especially hard for Amanda because she used to be quite popular (of course that has most likely been embellished over the years). Perhaps that is her only escape: dreaming of her past.
Laura must have an imagination with her glass set of animals, but she never ventures out of the house. She must be frustrated with not getting out and mingling with society. With Jim we can see that she longs for some companionship somehow. She needs that kind of escape, but will never get it.
Even Jim never reached his aspirations from high school. Even he doesn't have a realistic vision when he tells Laura all she needs is a little confidence. She has a brace and she has no skills. She needs a lot more than that to survive in society. Jim will never be as successful as predicted, so his long for escape is just as justified as the others.