Often times when people have a hard time dealing with reality they resort into a sense of illusion, such as day dreaming. This is seen when evaluating the dominant theme in The Glass Menagerie-the difficulty people have in accepting and relating to reality. As a result of their inability to overcome this difficulty, every major character in Tennessee Williams' play "The Glass Menagerie" withdraw into a private world of illusion and fantasy to find the comfort they can't find in real life.
Out of the major characters in the play Laura is probably the one most detached from reality. There are several symbols in the play that represent this fact. First of all Laura has a glass collection that she carefully takes care of, and in a sense plays with.
Given her age, this act is very odd, and not acceptable. Her glass menagerie is an example of the imaginary world she lives in to escape her real life where she has many problems. Laura's real problems include being cripple, not finishing high school, dropping out of her typing class and not telling her mother, and lastly disappointing her mother by not having any "gentlemen callers." Another strong symbol of Laura's obsession with fantasy is the nickname that Jim gave her in high school, "Blue Roses." Blue roses do not exist in nature, and are therefore an illusion. Laura's obsession with this nickname again shows her distance from reality. Everytime Laura tries to step out of her imaginary world and into the real world something trips her up. For example, when Amanda sends Laura to the store and she trips while going down the fire escape that symbolizes a way for the inside world to get into Laura's imaginary life.
Lastly, Laura's favorite figurine in her glass menagerie is that of a unicorn, an animal that does not really exist except for in fantasies. Additionally, Laura sees herself as a type of unicorn, something different from the majority. When Jim and Laura dance they knock over the unicorn, causing the horn to break off symbolizing that when Laura gets closer to reality she breaks. After Jim tells her he is engaged, she is no longer getting nearer to reality, but rather is broken hearted and gives him the broken unicorn, symbolic of how he has broken her heart. Laura is fragile, and is safer in her world of fantasy. Tom is similar and at the same time similar to Laura.
At the beginning of the play the reader is given the impression that Tom is the only one in the Wingfield family who is capable of functioning in the real world. Tom interacts with strangers, and has a job out in the real world in order to finance his mother, sister, and himself. However, Tom also withdraws into his illusions to escape from the never-ending arguments and disagreements he has with his mother. Also, Tom is frustrated about his boring and, what he considers, meaningless life. During the play, Tom often times says he spends his late night at the movies. His obsession with movies represents his attempt to escape reality and disappear into a fantasy world.
Additionally, Tom's attempt to dodge reality and escape into a illusion is seen when Tom hides out on the fire escape. Tom sees the fire escape as a way out. While Laura overall is content with her imaginary life, Tom isn't and wants out. Tom always makes jokes about his dad, and how he "fell in love with long distances." This is his attempt to ease the pain of abandonment by turning it into something humorous. It is clear that what Tom resents most about his father is exactly what Tom himself will carry out in the end, an escape from the Wingfield's demented world of illusion. Through his father, Tom has seen that an escape is possible, and though he is hesitant to leave his sister and even his mother behind, he is being driven to go through with it.
Mr. Wingfield, the father of Tom and Laura, and Amanda's husband, is referred to often throughout the story. He is the ultimate symbol of escape from the fantasy world of the Wingfield household, and an illusion of freedom. This is because he has managed to remove himself from the desperate situation that the rest of his family is still living in. His picture still hangs on the wall as a constant reminder of better times and days gone by. Amanda always makes rude remarks about her missing husband, yet lets his picture remain, showing she is stuck in the past.
The portrait of Mr. Wingfield still hanging in the house is an example of Amanda, being stuck in the past, and living in a world of illusion. Additionally, Amanda asks Laura everyday how many gentlemen callers she will be expecting that evening, even though she should know that Laura never is expecting any. This repetitive act is another example of Amanda's world of illusion.
Furthermore, even after Tom tells her that his co-worker Jim is not coming over to call on Laura, but rather just eat dinner with the Wingfield's Amanda insists that Jim is Laura's first gentlemen caller. Though each character has their own form of illusions and a fantasy world they all escape due to their inability to deal with the problems that they are confronted with in their real life. Tom, unlike Amanda and Laura, was discontented with his situation and escaped, leaving Amanda and Laura behind in their fantasy world.