Summary and Analysis
Tom explains how his mother, once she had decided that a gentleman caller was necessary, set all her energy to preparing for one. She began a campaign on the telephone to recruit subscribers for a popular woman's magazine.
When the scene opens, Tom and his mother are arguing about a book by D. H. Lawrence that she took back to the library because she refuses to have such a hideous book in her house. Tom reminds her that he pays the rent on the house. Tom then prepares to leave to go to the movies. Amanda screams at him that he can't stay out late at night and still do a good day's work. Tom reminds her how much he hates his job at the warehouse. When Amanda accuses Tom of doing something he is ashamed of every night and accuses him of lying about going every night to the movies, Tom becomes infuriated and tells his mother a fantastic tale and ends by calling her an "ugly — babbling — witch." Tom tries to get his coat on and in his rapid struggle to leave, he throws his coat against the wall and shatters some of Laura's glass menagerie.
One of Amanda's admirable qualities is her determination. Once she has set her mind to a task, she goes about it with a determination that neither of her children possesses. It would be impossible to imagine either Tom or Laura dedicating themselves to a task with such complete zeal as does Amanda.
It is, however, this dedication which makes her appear hateful to her children. It is as though both, especially Tom, were still youths whose every action had to be supervised.
When the quarrel began, Tom was apparently in the midst of trying to write something creative when Amanda interrupted him. The violence of the quarrel has other implications. Besides the nagging, the responsibility and the gloomy life, Tom's privacy has been intruded upon, here represented by the fact that Amanda has carried his book by Lawrence back to the library. Thus if Amanda is the type to look upon the novels of D. H. Lawrence as "filth," then there is little chance for Tom to find understanding and sympathy for his own creative efforts.
During the quarrel, we find out that Tom hates his job at the warehouse and furthermore goes every night to the movies in order to find some type of escape. Like Tennessee Williams, Tom thinks of the warehouse job as destructive to his creative endeavors.
At the end of the scene, Tom's violent action causes some of Laura's glass to be shattered. Tom returns to pick up the glass but is unable to utter a word. This symbolically represents Laura's inner feelings. During the scene she has had nothing to say, but the lighting is always focused on her because during scenes such as these, it is Laura who suffers the most, and she must sense that much of the antagonism between Tom and Amanda stems from her position. That is, Laura must know that she is an extra burden on Tom and that he feels this responsibility for her. And she knows that Amanda constantly worries about her. Thus, the shattered glass seems to represent Laura's shattered inner feelings. In the next scene, she will attempt to reconcile Tom and Amanda.