The Glass Menagerie

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The Movies Symbol Analysis

The Movies Symbol Icon
Tom escapes to the movies night after night, immersing himself in action-adventure films, envisioning himself as the hero of narratives other than the one in which he's stuck. Yet the movies can only provide a temporary, and therefore false, escape: Tom goes to the cinema to live alternate lives, but he must always return to his own. “The movies” themselves are also a code within the play: sometimes Tom does go to the cinema, but sometimes he uses “going to the movies” as a euphemism for drinking, a different sort of escape. The movies also provide a commentary on the nature of theater itself: just as the audience is escaping reality by watching a play, Tom escapes the reality of his play by watching a theatrical spectacle.

The Movies Quotes in The Glass Menagerie

The The Glass Menagerie quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Movies. 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 3 Quotes

You’ll go up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentleman callers! You ugly—babbling old—witch...

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Amanda Wingfield
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie, The Movies
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom and Amanda have been arguing vehemently over Tom’s role in the family. Although Laura doesn’t speak during the argument, the spotlight stays on her the entire time, showing that she is often at the center of their fights. Both Tom and Amanda project themselves and their concerns onto Laura. Tom desperately wants to lead an independent life, but he feels trapped at home. Tom yells at Amanda because he feels as though he has no privacy. Amanda accuses Tom of doing sordid things and ruining his reputation when he claims that he is going out to the “movies” at night. Not only does she assume that he’s lying, she assumes that he is being disreputable, which will give the family and thus Amanda herself a poor reputation by association. Tom lashes out so violently against Amanda because he sees that she doesn’t trust him and that she wants to control every aspect of his life. Even though Amanda is stifling Tom, Tom does not exactly demonstrate fair and balanced behavior to Amanda. Tom leaps around the stage, admitting to all the horrible deeds Amanda accuses him of undertaking.

When Tom calls Amanda a witch, however, he has gone too far, and the relationship between them literally shatters: as Tom violently leaps around the stage, he knocks over Laura’s glass menagerie, and some of the animals shatter. Tom and Amanda have reached the breaking point, and this becomes literally rendered in the breaking of the animals.

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Scene 4 Quotes

But the wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick. We nailed him into a coffin and he got out of the coffin without removing one nail. [He has come inside.] There is a trick that would come in handy for me—get me out of this two-by-four situation!...You know it don’t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Related Symbols: The Movies
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom’s description of the coffin trick to Laura is deeply symbolic of the way he feels about his own life. Tom escapes the apartment when he goes to the movies at night, but the movies can only offer an imaginary, temporary escape, and he still feels trapped day after day. Because he perceives himself to be stuck and stagnant, with no foreseeable change in his future, he feels dead, caught physically and emotionally in the same place. Tom feels as though the external forces of his mother and the world at large have kept him nailed into place, and the magician’s ability to escape represents his greatest desire. However, Tom never quite articulates what he would do with his freedom.

It's important to note that Tom is also trapped inside his own head and his own memories. The apartment is a coffin, but the stage itself is also a trap for Tom. He keeps putting himself voluntarily back into the coffin of his memories because he feels too guilty to escape completely.

I go to the movies because—I like adventure. Adventure is something I don’t have much of at work, so I go to the movies.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Movies
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

After Tom and Amanda have had their enormous fight about Tom leaving the house every night, and after Tom has called Amanda a witch, he eventually apologizes to Amanda, and they resume their conversation about the movies in a more measured, civil fashion. Amanda is afraid that Tom has inherited his father’s desire for escape, which is why she objects so strongly to his fantasy life. She becomes domineering and clingy because she fears that if she loses control of Tom, he will leave the family, just as her husband has. Tom feels stifled both at home and at work, so he seeks adventure through other methods. The movies allow Tom to have the freedom, even if that freedom is imaginary, to be the hero of another story. Though Tom is trapped physically, he finds some solace in imagination. However, the movies are only a temporary relief.

The movies also serve as an intriguing parallel to the space of the theater that the play itself inhabits. The Glass Menagerie does not hide its theatricality and artifice. On the contrary, the play is always very aware of its status as an art object. The audience is at the play for some reason, and that reason might well be to escape from some aspect of the real world. Just as Tom seeks adventure at the movies, so the audience might be seeking adventure at the theater.

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The Movies Symbol Timeline in The Glass Menagerie

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Movies appears in The Glass Menagerie. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 3
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
...excursions, and she accuses him of doing something shameful under the guise of going to the movies , claiming that he will jeopardize his job. (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
When Amanda declares again that she doesn’t believe Tom is going to the movies , Tom sarcastically tells her she’s right and claims that he is, indeed, leading a... (full context)
Scene 4
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
...tolls five times, Tom stumbles up the fire escape and into the apartment, visibly drunk. Movie ticket stubs and an empty bottle spill out of his pockets as he fumbles for... (full context)
Scene 5
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Tom leaves for the movies , and Amanda calls Laura to the front room. She points out the moon to... (full context)
Scene 6
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom tells Jim that he’s sick of the movies and wants, instead, to move. He reveals that instead of paying the light bill for... (full context)
Scene 7
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
...but Tom insists that he didn’t know about Jim’s engagement. He leaves to go to the movies , and Amanda yells that for all he cares about the family, he might as... (full context)