Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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Who or what is to blame for the "impossibility of a true escape" in The Glass Menagerie?

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Of the four main characters, it is Tom who speaks frequently and bitterly of the need to escape--to escape his stifling job at the warehouse and his role as the sole financial support for his mother and sister. Tom wants to escape the deadly dull and smothering life he leads in St. Louis and find the adventure and self-fulfillment he believes will make his life meaningful. Once he reaches his breaking point and abandons Laura and Amanda, Tom leaves St. Louis behind and travels the world, one strange city after another, as he had once dreamed. He finds, however, that he has not escaped at all. No matter the distance he places between himself and his sister, especially, he cannot feel free. He is always drawn back to Laura through his memories of her and his guilt for leaving her. Tom could leave home, but he could not escape his own character and his own past.

Jim O'Connor seeks an escape of his own. He plans to achieve great success in the world and leave his current position in life behind. Like Tom, Jim works at the warehouse, but he envisions himself building a career in the new television industry. He takes a night class and studies public speaking. We don't know how Jim's plans ultimately turn out, but there is some evidence that they may be derailed. Jim has worked at the warehouse for some time already since leaving high school, he is now engaged and will soon marry. As a married man supporting a family during the Depression, he may find himself trapped by life's circumstances.

Amanda seeks to escape financial abandonment. She continually reminds Tom of his importance in the family's economic survival. She harps at him daily. She sends Laura to business college so that Laura can learn the skills necessary to become employable. When that fails, she tries to find a gentleman caller for Laura who can take Tom's place in supporting Laura and herself. Ultimately, Amanda cannot escape abandonment and financial ruin because she cannot control Tom, Laura, or Jim. She is trapped by circumstances, including the fact that she has no skills or education to support herself and her daughter.

Laura tries to escape the world in which she cannot function. There also is evidence she tries to escape the pain of her father's leaving. She retreats into her glass menagerie, and she plays her father's records during times of great stress. When Laura does allow herself to engage with Jim in a genuine and personal way, she is crushed by his selfishness conduct. Laura, like her brother, cannot escape her own character and her own history.

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