Have the students divide into groups of two or three. Each group should make a list of the symbols in the play that relate to the idea of escape. On a piece of paper, have them list the symbol itself, explain which character the symbol corresponds to, and explain how the object/person/event symbolizes the theme of escape. You can do this act by act or after the class has finished reading the entire play. Follow the written portion of the assignment with a group discussion of what they have discovered.
Some examples of symbols that relate to escape are:
1. The glass menagerie and the phonograph records:Laura uses these to escape into fantasy and avoid a world with which she is unable to cope.
2. The photograph of the father:For all the family members, he is the ultimate symbol of escape because of his desertion. It is telling that the picture has remained in the apartment all these years, reminding the family every day of his absence.
3. The seventeen gentleman callers: Amanda tries to escape her current life as a deserted wife who must constantly scramble for money by retelling stories of when she was young and life had limitless possibilities. This is most represented in the tale of when she was courted by seventeen Southern gentlemen who came from the finest families.
4. For Tom, the idea of escape is most important. He constantly escapes to the unreality of the movies. Tom also admires a magician he sees who is able to escape from a coffin without removing a nail. He sees his current situation and his family life as a coffin. When he tries to escape from them by joining the Merchant Marines, he discovers how trapped he truly is. He is haunted constantly by images of home, especially of Laura. Notice that Tom begins and ends the play at the fire escape. This is literally a way to escape the Wingfield apartment and enter the outside world. It allows him to leave physically, but he can never escape mentally. Also notice that in scene 4 of the play, Laura slips on the fire escape, a reminder of her inability to navigate in the outside world.