By the final scene in the play, Tom has physically left his mother and sister, but he cannot escape the memory of his sister. In the play, Laura has a physical disability. This disability symbolizes her inability to escape from her mother and the life they are destined to live together. Tom knows he cannot save his sister from this, and it breaks his heart, but he knows he cannot stay either. Like his father before him, Tom must leave, and he does. However, he feels real anguish for his sister. Just as the father sends his family a postcard that says "Hello- good bye," Tom is haunted by remembering his sister so intently that he feels as if she is there, but realizes he must tell her goodbye. The candles in this speech refer to the candles Laura's one gentleman caller lit when the lights went out. For a short period of time, Laura charmed a young man, but reality intruded: he was already engaged. When Laura realized the scene was a charade, she blew the candles out. Blowing out the candles also symbolizes Tom's leaving. With Tom leaving, the light has gone out of Laura's life, along with any hope of escape or a life of her own. (Cardullo, 1997) Tom says,
The cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches. I would have stopped but I was pursued by something. It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise.... 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! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger -- anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura -- and so goodbye...." ("The Glass Menagerie," Scene 7)
Tom has escaped the reality of living with his mother and sister, but now he is haunted by the memories he carries with him. Who has the better memories - Amanda with her fantasy of seventeen gentlemen callers when she lived in Blue Mountain, Laura with the memory of one kiss from a man who would return to his true love, or Tom, knowing both what he has escaped and what he cannot escape - the memory of his sad and lonely sister? Of the three Wingfields, Tom is the only one who has the possibility of looking forward instead of back, but he seems to not know how to do it. Everywhere he goes he is haunted by his memories, and he does not know if the terrible price he paid of deserting his mother and sister will bring him his dreams of adventure and life as a poet.
Cardullo, Bert. March, 1997.l "The Glass Menagerie." The Explicator, Vol. 55:161-164.