The Glass Menagerie

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Fire Escape Symbol Icon
Tom frequently stands on the apartment’s fire escape, a literal and figurative temporary release from the confines of his daily life. Tom smokes on the fire escape, removing himself from the metaphorical domestic fires by lighting his own flame, which also symbolizes his desire to control his destiny rather than be consumed by his family and his history. His frequent escape to the fire escape foreshadows his eventual departure from the apartment. In contrast, the one time Laura is forced onto the fire escape, she stumbles, emphasizing how inextricably she is bound to life in the Wingfield world.

Fire Escape Quotes in The Glass Menagerie

The The Glass Menagerie quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire Escape. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the New Directions edition of The Glass Menagerie published in 1999.
Scene 1 Quotes

The apartment...is entered by a fire escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation.

Related Symbols: Fire Escape
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The play opens with a long, poetic stage direction that sets the scene and tone. Williams uses elaborate, lengthy stage directions throughout the play, and these stage directions provide a very firm interpretive grip over the actions in the play, since Williams deliberately does not leave much room for ambiguous interpretations of the type of mood or tone that he wants to convey. These lush, evocative descriptions also make the play more able to be visualized immediately by a person reading the script rather than sitting in the theater. This is a play that lends itself to being experienced as a written text as well as a drama realized in performance. The stage directions go well beyond the realm of nuts-and-bolts descriptions intended to tell the director what is supposed to be on the stage, painting the intended mood and atmosphere through the description as well. Williams is also showing off his chops as a writer, reminding the reader that even though Tom might assert himself to be the author of the events of the play, Williams is ultimately the master of events. Here, notably, he introduces idea of "escape" through the very name of his symbolic stage prop, the fire escape.

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Scene 5 Quotes

Amanda: A little silver slipper of a moon. Look over your left shoulder, Laura, and make a wish! ... Now! Now, darling, wish!
Laura: What shall I wish for, Mother?
Amanda [her voice trembling, and her eyes suddenly filling with tears]: Happiness! Good fortune!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire Escape
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Laura and Amanda are in a co-dependent relationship, which stifles both of them and keeps them stuck in the past and in their own imaginations instead of moving forward into the future. Laura does not know how to desire anything for herself, so she defers to Amanda to tell her what to wish for. Laura has not had the opportunity to practice any sort of independence for herself. Amanda, meanwhile, projects her own wishes and desires onto Laura. Amanda says that she wants Laura to be happy, but Amanda does not really listen to what Laura wants. Instead, Amanda wants Laura to want Amanda’s definition of happiness.

Indeed, Amanda projects all her desires onto her children. Earlier that evening, when she and Tom had been looking at the moon over the fire escape, Amanda tells Tom that she has wished for success and happiness for her children. Tom then reveals to her that he has arranged for a gentleman caller for Laura. In the first scene of the play, Tom calls himself a “magician,” and now, it seems as though he is making Amanda’s wishes come true. However, the scene is also tragic, since the audience knows that the happily-ever-after ending Amanda seeks will not come to pass.

Scene 6 Quotes

[Jim] seemed to move in a continual spotlight. ... He was shooting with such velocity through his adolescence that you would logically expect him to arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor
Related Symbols: Fire Escape
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

When Tom begins to describe Jim, the other man seems like Tom’s opposite in many ways. In high school, Jim had been a star. Tom describes young Jim in a way that makes him sound like a hero in one of the adventure movies Tom now watches night after night. Tom’s memory of Jim was of a perfect "golden boy" with an extremely bright future.

At present, however, the paths of the two men have converged. Despite seeming to be on such different paths at the end of high school, Jim and Tom are now both in the same position at the warehouse. Tom’s description of Jim is just as influenced by memory as his description of the rest of the characters, and Jim also relies on memory and the glory of the past to help soothe the harsh realities of the present. Since Tom knew Jim in Jim’s glory days, he can see him in this more flattering light, which allows Jim to see himself as the shining star he was, rather than the stalled worker he is now.

Scene 7 Quotes

I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. I traveled around a great deal. The cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Mr. Wingfield
Related Symbols: Fire Escape
Page Number: 96-97
Explanation and Analysis:

The image of the city sweeping about Tom like dead leaves is perhaps a reference to a famous description in the Inferno, in which Dante describes souls as fluttering around the Underworld as lightly as dead leaves. Tom believed that when he left the apartment and sought his freedom, he would be able to escape (via the "fire escape," symbolically) the forlorn nature of the house. Tom felt like he was dead in that apartment, as he signified in his speech to Laura about the magician’s trick of getting out of the coffin. However, Tom learns, perhaps too late, that though he thinks he can find freedom by roaming far afield, he is still in the underworld, since he is still trapped within his own memories and his emotions. Physical freedom is not the same thing as psychological escape. Tom’s world becomes an inferno, the seasons and cities as empty and fruitless as dead leaves and dead souls. Just as the family is haunted by the specter of the father who left them, Tom is haunted by the specter of the family he himself left. Tom’s sudden break feels like a victory in the moment, but in reality, because he has had no closure, a huge part of Tom still remains in that apartment (as the very existence of the "memory play" itself makes clear).

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Fire Escape Symbol Timeline in The Glass Menagerie

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire Escape appears in The Glass Menagerie. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1
Memory Theme Icon
...building that faces an alleyway. Through the dim lighting, the audience first sees the apartment's fire escape , then the living room which features a typewriter, a display case with glass animals,... (full context)
Scene 3
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
The words “After the fiasco” appear on the screen. Tom stands on the fire escape and tells the audience that after the “fiasco” at the business college, Amanda has become... (full context)
Scene 4
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
...sends Laura to buy groceries on credit, and as Laura leaves, she slips on the fire escape . (full context)
Scene 5
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
...spring, 1937. Amanda nags Tom about his appearance and his smoking. Tom steps onto the fire escape with his cigarette and reminisces about the Paradise Dance Hall across the street from the... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Amanda joins Tom on the fire escape , and they look at the moon together. They each make a wish on the... (full context)
Scene 6
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Leaning on the fire escape , Tom tells the audience about Jim. He describes Jim as the high-school hero, captain... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
...the portieres. Tom explains that Laura is terribly shy. Jim and Tom go onto the fire escape as Tom smokes, and Jim tells Tom to enroll in his course on public speaking. (full context)
Scene 7
Memory Theme Icon
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom smashes his drink glass on the floor and bursts onto the fire escape . Inside the house, Amanda holds Laura in her arms, stroking her hair. Tom delivers... (full context)