The Glass Menagerie

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Illusions and Dreams Theme Analysis

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Tom explains that in creating the play from his memory that he is giving “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” and the stage directions of the play are designed to create a nostalgic, sentimental, non-realistic atmosphere to create the unreal yet heightened effects of a dream. The lighting in each scene adds emphasis and shadows: for example, the electric light that goes out, the candelabra, moonlight, the paper lantern that hides the broken lightbulb, Tom’s lit cigarette, all draw attention to the artistic, emotional, and artificial nature of the play. The stage illusions in the gentleman caller scene—the switch from electricity to candlelight, the music on the Victrola—further this sense of an unreal, dreamlike realm. Though the scene begins as comedy, the lighting and music tenderly develop it into romance, which then shatters into tragedy as the glass unicorn breaks and the dream shifts suddenly back to reality.

The characters in the play are also full of dreams, though these dreams operate in different ways. Tom dreams about escape from his present life. He writes poetry in the warehouse, discusses joining the merchant marines, and escapes into action-adventure movies. He comments to Jim, at one point, that all of the people at the movies are there to escape into illusion and avoid real life. Amanda's dreams are desperate attempts to escape the sadness of her present, and as such they become self-delusions, blinding her to reality and to the desires of her children. She insists that Tom will fulfill her vision of him as the successful businessman. And when the dream of Laura in business school falls apart, rather than see reality Amanda constructs a new fantasy life for her daughter in the realm of gentleman callers and marriage prospects.

For Laura, dreams do not take the form of ambitions, but instead offer her a refuge from the pain of reality. Unlike Amanda, Laura does not delude herself by pretending that her physical disabilities do not exist. Instead, she retreats from the world by surrounding herself with perfect, immortal objects, like her glass menagerie and the “Jewel Box” she visits instead of going to business school classes. Tom suggests that Jim might have once had high hopes for himself but has since slipped into mediocrity, which might show Tom projecting onto Jim and not necessarily how Jim sees himself. Unlike the Wingfields, Jim neither lives in a dream world of the past nor in a secret future dream-life, but in the present. And yet Jim is himself hoping for a career in radio and television—an industry that might be described as being in the business of creating dreams or believable illusions—and in this way the play suggests that the Wingfield's are not alone in their susceptibility to dreams.

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Illusions and Dreams Quotes in The Glass Menagerie

Below you will find the important quotes in The Glass Menagerie related to the theme of Illusions and Dreams.
Scene 1 Quotes

The 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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Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the first line that Tom, the narrator of the play, says, thus presenting himself as the author of the events that are to come. Tom is both a character in the play’s drama and the manipulator of the scene that the audience sees. Tom doesn’t spell out exactly what he will give the audience. Instead, he declares that he will give truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion--thus asserting that the events of the play are objectively "true," but filtered and softened through his memory and the artifice of the theatre.

At the same time, there is another "magician" at work beyond the one that Tom explicitly presents. When Tom enters the stage, he himself is presented as the author of the play, and the events of the play are portrayed as springing from his own memory. However, Tennessee Williams, not Tom, is the play’s real author, of course. This means that when Tom steps outside the action to set the stage, as he does in this first scene, he is still a character in a framed, fictional play. The audience is thus watching a stylized portrayal of a character who then presents an elaborately stylized portrayal of the main events of which the drama is composed--further emphasizing the illusory, dreamlike aspect of the action we are about to observe.

Resume your seat, little sister—I want you to stay fresh and pretty—for gentleman callers!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Amanda projects her own past and her own relationships onto Laura. Rather than seeing and appreciating Laura for who she is, Amanda insists on attempting to mold Laura after the ingénue that she envisioned herself as being. Amanda calls Laura “little sister,” which accentuates the psychologically strange nature of their relationship. On the one hand, “little sister” is a term of endearment, a nickname that demonstrates the affection and familiarity between these two characters. Yet “little sister” is a strange term of endearment from a mother to a daughter. Amanda wants to retain the image of herself as an young, flirtatious woman who still receives gentleman callers, even though that version of herself is far in the past. By referring to Laura as her “sister,” rather than her daughter, Amanda can still maintain her fiction about herself. Amanda also projects her memory of her former self onto Laura’s present self, even though Laura, in reality, is hardly the same person as Amanda. Amanda prepares Laura for “gentlemen callers” not because Laura wants them, but because Amanda wants to demonstrate her own power and re-live her youth. 

Scene 2 Quotes

I went in the art museum and the bird houses at the Zoo...Lately I’ve been spending most of my afternoons in the Jewel Box, that big glass house where they raise the tropical flowers.

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Laura spends her days attempting to escape from reality. The art museum and the Jewel Box are, symbolically, other iterations of the glass menagerie that Laura keeps in the living room. Laura herself is like a rare tropical flower in a glass box. She is a delicate creature, unable to withstand the harsh realities of daily life. Secretary school proves too difficult for her not because of the subject matter, but because being exposed to the world day in and day out is too intense. She retreats from the school, and then she retreats from admitting to her mother that she has left the program, because this conversation is likewise too harsh a reality to face. Instead, Laura attempts to keep herself in her beautiful, delicate, and false idea of the world.

The audience also must remember that Laura’s character might seem even more frail because she is being portrayed at all times through Tom’s biased narration and Tom’s memory. Tom remembers all the events of the play through the lens of his own guilt. He knows that he has left his family, and he feels as though this action has betrayed Laura, so he can’t help but remember her as even more exquisite yet fragile than she actually might have been in real life. Tom wants Laura to seem as beautiful, delicate, and helpless as possible, because this is the vision of her that he keeps in his memory.

What is there left but dependency all our lives? I know so well what becomes of unmarried women who aren’t prepared to occupy a position. I’ve seen such pitiful cases in the South—barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or brother’s wife!—stuck away in some little mousetrap of a room—encouraged by one in-law to visit another—little birdlike women without any nest—eating the crust of humility all their life!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

When Laura drops out of secretarial school, Amanda paints a gruesomely exaggerated picture of the sorry fate that an unwed, unemployed single woman must face. Since Laura has failed to secure a career, Amanda suggests that the only thing she can do is marry, even though Laura is extremely shy and does not seem very eager to pursue romance. Amanda wants to make the best of what she perceives to be a dire situation, and she latches onto her idea of what might be a sliver of hope.

Amanda is fearful about her own future. Her husband has left her, she is not trained in a career, and she is no longer an attractive young woman, which, in her own calculus, means that she may have to live off the charity of others. But instead of admitting her worries about herself, Amanda projects her fears onto Laura. Amanda still pretends that she lives as a golden past version of herself, and to admit a lack of self-confidence in her own capabilities would be to face the real world and her own flaws in a way that she’s not capable of doing yet.

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.

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.

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

A fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in Laura: she is like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting.

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

This description of Laura as a piece of glass comes from the stage directions for the scene in which the family is preparing for Laura’s gentleman caller. Since the description is written for the reader or the actor to internalize rather than for the audience to witness, the line does not move the action forward, but rather sets the symbolic tone for the scene. The stage direction also indicates that this description of Laura as glass-like is intended as symbolic. In Tom’s memory, Laura is just like one of the creatures from her beloved menagerie. Like the glass, Laura is beautiful but fragile, seemingly about to break at any moment. She is also removed from the realities of the world. The world is too harsh and cruel for her, and just as Tom breaks the glass animals when he lashes out against Amanda, Laura cracks under the pressures of reality. Laura would rather live in a dream world, kept safe and untouched in a beautiful bubble.

Scene 7 Quotes

Jim lights a cigarette and leans indolently back on his elbows smiling at Laura with a warmth and charm which lights her inwardly with altar candles.

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield, Jim O’Connor
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

The stage direction about Jim’s cigarette emphasizes light, and throughout the scene, Williams depicts many different kinds of light, which symbolize different aspects of both hope and melancholy. The fuse box goes out and they all have to light candles, which makes the scene seem more magical and removed from harsh realities. Throughout the scene when Jim comes to visit the Wingfields, the many different kinds of light that appear are highly symbolic. Jim’s cigarette demonstrates control and confidence, since it keeps a tiny, private spotlight around him at all times. Laura idolizes Jim, so to her, the cigarette comes to look like altar candles, since he represents hope. Tom describes the high school version of Jim as seeming to be under a spotlight at all times, and Jim is certainly symbolically in the spotlight throughout this whole scene. Amanda, Tom, and Laura all wish on the moon, calling attention to the moonlight, which is a softer light that symbolizes both romantic hope and foolish dreams. Jim is also like a shooting star, both in his personal life and in the role he plays in the Wingfield family. Although Jim had been a rising star in high school, his rising has stalled and his star has dimmed. When Jim comes into the Wingfield house, he seems to be a shooting star again, a ray of light that cuts through their life. However, like a shooting star, he only passes through without staying.

Jim: What kind of glass is it?
Laura: Little articles of it, they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie!...Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks!...There now—you’re holding him gently! Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie, Glass Unicorn
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

When Laura describes her glass menagerie to Jim, she is also describing herself. Laura is like a tiny, delicate animal, kept in careful seclusion from the world, living in a protected fantasy life rather than entering harsh reality. However, the fact that she lives separate from the real world doesn’t mean that she doesn’t experience emotions and desires. Laura projects some of these emotions into the glass animals. The glass animals seem to be static and ornamental, yet they react to how they are treated and the environments they are in. The glass unicorn that Jim holds is especially symbolic of Laura herself. When he holds the unicorn to the light, the unicorn itself seems to glow (to "love the light"). The light that appears again in this quote reminds the audience of the importance of light throughout this entire scene. Even the high school yearbook is called “The Torch.” Jim and Laura aren’t exactly old flames, but in this moment, Jim brings light into Laura’s life, which makes her glow.

Unicorns—aren’t they extinct in the modern world?

Related Characters: Jim O’Connor (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glass Unicorn
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Jim is supposedly talking about Laura’s glass unicorn, he is also describing Laura herself. Laura feels a particular affection towards the glass unicorn because she sees herself in it. She is very delicate and fragile, and she does not quite exist within the normal scope of reality. Laura wanders in her own fantasy life, spending her days in gardens and greenhouses, and spending her nights cooped in the apartment. She is shy and skittish, like the mythical unicorn, and she makes others want to protect her. Jim’s comment that unicorns are extinct suggests that Laura herself would also become extinct in the real world, a dim imaginary figure rather than someone living a robust, vital life in a community.

Jim’s light joke about the unicorn also shows that he is humoring Laura by playing along with her as she shows him the menagerie. Though Jim is respectful and kind to Laura, he treats her glass menagerie as a pretty, innocent, somewhat childlike collection, and nothing more serious than that. To Laura, however, the glass animals are much more than mere dolls, and caring for them is an enormous part of her daily ritual. The glass animals, she feels, are dependent on her, and she takes responsibility for them. 

Jim: Aw, aw, aw. Is it broken?
Laura: Now it is just like all the other horses.
Jim: It’s lost its—

Laura: Horn! It doesn’t matter...I don’t have favorites much...I’ll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less—freakish!

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie, Glass Unicorn
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jim dances with Laura, they knock into the table where Jim had set the glass unicorn. The unicorn falls and its horn falls off. Laura attempts to put on a brave face, but she identifies strongly with the glass unicorn, so she feels its pain acutely. However, she suggests that the break comes as a possible blessing in disguise, as she puts it, because now, the unicorn could be treated normally ("just like all the other horses").

The unicorn’s broken horn also serves as a parallel to Laura’s own disease. In high school, Laura’s pleurosis caused her leg to hurt quite badly, and she had to wear a brace for some time. Just as Laura’s leg had been struck, now the unicorn’s horn is gone. When the unicorn’s horn breaks, Laura is shaken, but she masks her disappointment by suggesting that now the unicorn is like all the other horses, and doesn’t have to feel ostracized for being "freakish." If Laura had never had the disease, Jim would never have noticed her in high school and called here “Blue Roses,” a mishearing of “pleurosis.” Yet if she had not healed, Jim would not be dancing with her in the living room. Breaking the unicorn’s horn also has subtle sexual undertones, suggesting a possible erotic charge to the scene.

They’re common as—weeds, but—you—well, you’re—Blue Roses!

Related Characters: Jim O’Connor (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Related Symbols: Blue Roses, Music
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

After he dances with Laura and breaks the unicorn, Jim suddenly takes much closer notice of Laura. He has been kind to her throughout the scene, but now, he sees her as not only a sweet but lonely woman, but as a pretty ingénue, someone who could possibly be the object of his affections. “Blue Roses,” once a lighthearted childhood nickname, is now presented to Laura as though it were a rare bouquet. Jim moves from polite interaction to what appears to be genuinely emotional courting.

The stage direction notes that the music changes as soon as Jim calls Laura “Blue Roses.” Although she is quiet, Laura is extremely overcome with emotions as Jim shifts from describing her as though she were a sister to starting to view her as a potential lover. The scene seems like one of Tom’s magic tricks, however, since he is, after all, the magician of the play. Jim’s speech is beautiful, but, like the glass menagerie, feels doomed to shatter.

I didn’t go to the moon, I went much further—for time is the longest distance between two places.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom ends the play with a long monologue that describes his escape from the Wingfield apartment. When Tom leaves his family, he leaves behind not only their reality but also their fantasy lives. The moon symbolizes hope and dreams throughout the play, as the family wishes on the moon to make their lives better. However, Tom realizes that wishing on the moon and dreaming is keeping himself tied to illusions and the past, rather than allowing him to move forward in his life. Tom abandons the promise of the moon and the dreams of his youth to try and pursue a new kind of life for himself (but also by following Amanda's angry command to "go to the moon").

The final monologue also re-introduces time into the play. This monologue pulls the audience out of the scenes in the apartment and presents a span of time over many years. Throughout the play, there is a continual tension between the characters’ recollections of the past and the present that they live in now. Amanda wants to cling to the past, and she fights against the realities of the present. Laura seems to exist in a bubble outside time. Tom, meanwhile, resents the past and the present and wants to fling himself into the future.

Not long after that I was fired for writing a poem on the lid of a shoe-box. I left St. Louis.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom’s literary ambitions and his desire for adventure finally outgrow his life, and he breaks free of what he perceives to be his prison. Boxes are extremely symbolic for Tom. He sees the apartment that he lives in as a stifling box, and the fire escape is the only place that provides any kind of relief. Tom describes the magic trick with the man who escapes from the coffin as a metaphor for Tom’s own life, since he feels trapped and dead inside his physical and symbolic box. The warehouse is another box that imprisons Tom inside a dead-end job. Even the movies, Tom’s escape mechanism, are inside a screen and a theater that are both box-like. The shoe-box is symbolic of Tom’s feeling of being trapped. However, the shoe-box is also what sets Tom free. He takes the symbolic shoes out of the symbolic box and walks away from what he perceives to be his prison. Tennessee Williams’s description of Tom’s literary ambitions is also somewhat autobiographical. Williams himself had literary ambitions that extended beyond the scope of his own life in St. Louis, and he, too, left the city to pursue bigger dreams.

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).

The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

In Tom’s final monologue, memory, reality, symbols, time, and space all swirl together in Tom’s head. Although Tom thinks that he can escape the prison of his stifling home life when he leaves the Wingfield apartment and travels far afield, Tom cannot escape the memories of his past. Tom is heartbroken at the end of the play because he feels as though he has betrayed his sister. Even though Tom left the family to obtain his own freedom, which is what he thought he wanted, he hadn’t counted on the deep bond between himself and his sister, and his deep love and affection for her. He sees images of her everywhere, representing the guilt he feels. Tom shattered a bond between himself and Laura when he left, and every time he sees delicate glass objects, he is reminded of this symbolic shattering, because glass reminds him of Laura. Tom also sees himself in the glass, or, rather, the memory of his former self. 

For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura—and so goodbye...

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom’s final line of the play emphasizes the symbolic importance of the many different kinds of light and darkness that appear throughout the play. The lightning that strikes in this line is a very violent kind of light. Lightning is even more cruel and harsh than electric light or the light of the sun, since it is so highly concentrated and powerful. The lightning here also represents Tom’s feelings of guilt at leaving his family behind. Like the moon or the stars, lightning is a natural phenomenon, but it is quick, powerful, temporary, and all too real. The lightning also symbolically divides Tom’s present from his past. Tom knows that he can never return to the world of moonlight and candlelight that Laura and Amanda inhabit, because this world doesn’t even exist anymore. The memories of his family haunt Tom, but he must live in the present day. He thinks about Laura all the time, and his interior life has been lit by her memory since he left the family physically, but he also knows that he has to let her go in order to move forward with his own life.