Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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What does the symbolism of movies represent in The Glass Menagerie?

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The movies are a way for the main character, Tom, to escape from his boring life. They allow him to envision himself in various more exciting roles, but he also knows that that's all the films are: escapism that does not provide real fulfillment. He knows that eventually, he will need to go back to everyday life and leave the fantasies of the movie theater.

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In The Glass Menagerie, Tom lives a relatively boring life. His job at a shoe factory is tedious and doesn't pay well, and at home, his mother constantly nags him. He is his family's only provider, but he dreams of becoming a poet. With almost everything in his life so disappointing, he often goes to the movies to escape. By doing so, he hopes to immerse himself in the adventures of the stars on the screen. The films symbolize escapism and are a way for Tom to imagine all the ways his life could be more exciting. He dreams for a life full of adventure and romance.

However, Tom understands that the movies do not provide real fulfillment. He laments that Hollywood stars have adventures on the screen, but Americans sit in dark rooms to vicariously live through those escapades. He thinks it would be better for people to take active steps to take exciting chances and better their own lives. Every time Tom goes to the movies, he knows he has to leave the theater eventually and return to his own boring life. Williams might be hinting that movies offer too much escapism; people turn to them as a way to feel better about their lives for a short time, but they are not a substitute for true fulfillment.

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In the play The Glass Menagerie, what is the significance of the movies?

The movies represent a form of escapism mainly for the character-narrator Tom, who finds no other stimulation in his life. He is bored in his ill-paid job in a shoe factory and exasperated at home by his mother's constant nagging, so he goes to the movies as much as he can. They feed his rich inner life of fantasy, allowing him to imagine himself in all sorts of exciting, indeed lawless, roles.

However Tom is not so wrapped up in the movies that he can't see that they are essentially a form of delusion for the American public at large, who use them for fulfillment instead of actively trying to make a better and more rewarding life for themselves (see his conversation with Jim, scene six). The play suggests that the movies distract people too much from real-life problems, both social and personal, which need to be addressed.

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