Why does Tom go to the movies in The Glass Menagerie?
Yes, one can assume that Tom does more than just escape to the movies. The movies for Tom are a chance for vicarious experiences for his much-desired "romance and adventure." But even Tom knows that movies are hardly satisfactory. Late in the play, here's what Tom says to Jim about the movies:
Yes, movies ! Look at them ? All of those glamorous people - having adventures - hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up ! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them ! Yes, until there's a war. That's when adventure becomes available to the masses ! Everyone's dish, not only Gable's ! Then the people in the dark room come out of the dark room to have some adventure themselves Goody, goody! - It's our turn now, to go to the South Sea Islands - to make a safari - to be exotic, far-off ! - But I'm not patient. I don't want to wait till then. I'm tired of the movies and I am about to move!
So, Tom does go to the movies for escape, but he's far from happy about it. And even his mother doesn't think that's all he does when he's out so late at night:
AMANDA: I think you've been doing things that you're ashamed of. That's why you act like this. I don't believe that you go every night to the movies. Nobody goes to the movies night after night. Nobody in their right mind goes to the movies as often as you pretend to. People don't go to the movies at nearly midnight, and movies don't let out at two a.m. Come in stumbling. Muttering to yourself like a maniac!
One can assume, then, that "going to movies" is a euphemism for all kinds of other late-night doings which no doubt include drinking and some other extra-curricular activities. Tom comes stumbling home one morning at 5 AM, and only his sister, Laura, would believe he got that colorful silk scarf he waves from Malvolio the Magician.
Tom is the narrator of the play, trapped between a desire for independence, and an obligation to his family. He dreams of abandoning his mother and sister, as his father did years ago. He feels tied down to the two women, almost as though he is in prison. He cannot fully claim his identity as an adult, because his mother still treats him as a child. He's unsatisfied at his job, which he often neglects so he can write poetry.
One little escape Tom manages is going to the movies every night. It is his only release from the pressures of home and work. Although he says he goes to the movies, he certainly goes to bars sometimes as well, since he comes home drunk on occasion. Torn by his two conflicting obligations, Tom struggles to retain his sense of self, while remaining a responsible provider for his mother and sister. The movies become his dreams-his fantasies of a freedom he cannot find.