An American saying says, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." The idea that something can be perceived differently, depending on the person, is applicable to many different situations, including the way the symbols used in Tennessee Williams' play, The Glass Menagerie, apply to different characters. Jim and the fire escape are the two major symbols in the play and are viewed in different ways by the three main characters, Laura, Tom, and Amanda.
To every character, the fire escape symbolizes the outside world, but each character reacts in a different way. On page 29, Laura stumbles after stepping onto the fire escape. This is symbolic of the way she is unsuccessful and awkward in the outside world. Unlike Laura, who rarely ventures away from home, Tom is always drawn to the fire escape and beyond. The fire escape provides Tom with an figurative escape from his life at home. Amanda comments on Tom's constant trips to the fire escape saying, "You smoke too much" (7), showing how unhappy she is about his trips. Amanda fears, rightfully, that Tom wants to and will escape to the outside world, as his father did before him. The reader can see the distrust between Amanda and Tom through Amanda saying "I don't believe that lie" (24), in response to the answer that Tom had given her about his whereabouts the night before.
Like the fire escape, Jim is also symbolic of the outside world, but more than that, he is symbolic of the means by which Amanda, Laura, and Tom's dreams can be realized. To Laura, Jim is her last chance to win Amanda's approval. Jim also represents chance for her own life. Though she might be able to find another gentleman caller, the blow to her self-confidence and her emotions probably crushed her will. Tom said that Jim seemed to be "an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from." This fact only reinforced his desire to strike out on his own.