The fire escape, a symbol in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, represents not only an emergency escape from fire, but the escape from the disasters of the heart within the Wingfield apartment. In Scene Four, Tom tries to enter by way of the fire escape, but fumbling with other items in his pocket, he drops his key through the slats of the stairs. Fortunately for him, Laura, the inmate of the apartment, hears him and opens the door. The next day, without much sleep, Tom must rise and go to work. After he leaves, Amanda sends Laura to purchase groceries on credit. When Laura hesitates, Amanda scolds her, asking if she is going to do as she is told. Laura replies, and as the stage directions read,
She pulls on a shapeless felt hat with nervous, jerky movements, pleadingly glancing at Tom. Rushes awkwardly for coat. The coat is one of Amanda's, inaccurately made over, the sleeves too short for Laura.
Fearful of going out into public, Laura hesitates again when Amanda instructs her to charge the butter, saying, "Mother, they make such faces when I do that." Frantic from Amanda's second scolding, Laura rushes out and slips on the fire-escape steps. This action symbolizes her inability to venture outside the "nailed coffin" of the apartment as Tom has alluded to it in his discussion earlier with Laura about how a magician has escaped without removing one nail.
The fire escape stairs which Tom continually steps onto to smoke, symbolize Tom's eventual escape, but Laura's inability to do so. Her only escape is within, manipulating the glass menagerie in acts of pretending.