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Tom's fascination with the movies and the magician reveals his need for fantasy and escapism. Tom is always dreaming of fantastic places far from St. Louis, but for now he can only escape through the illusions offered by the movie house and the stage magician. He dreams of leaving home, but his responsibilities for his sister and his mother have so far kept him tied to the Wingfield apartment.
What Tom sees at the magic show is directly connected to the theme of conflict between Tom's responsibility for his family and his need to live his own life. The magician's most impressive trick becomes a symbol for what Tom wishes he could do - to make a clean, easy escape, without destroying the coffin or removing any nails. The use of the coffin as a symbol for Tom's predicament shows the depth of his unhappiness. He feels spiritually dead, despising his work and stifled by the atmosphere at home. In his talk with Amanda, he suggests that his work emasculates him, making it impossible for him to follow the instincts of a man. The magician is able to escape the coffin without the messiness of having to remove nails, which would damage the coffin. Tom can escape, but only at great cost - he would have to abandon his sister and mother and leave them to an uncertain fate. Tom is in awe of the magician because he does not have to choose; he can escape without causing any harm, a feat that might be impossible for Tom.