At the beginning of the scene, Tom is just returning from the movies. He explains to Laura, who is awake, that the movie was very long, and there was a magician who could perform tricks such as escaping from a coffin which had been nailed shut. The scene fades out and comes in again with Amanda calling for Tom to "rise and shine!" Laura asks Tom to apologize to Amanda for their argument of the preceding evening. Amanda sends Laura to the store for butter and tells her to charge it even though Laura has qualms about charging anything else. As Laura leaves, she trips on the fire escape and Tom rushes to help her. After she is gone, Tom slowly and reluctantly apologizes to Amanda. Then almost immediately, Amanda begins to tell Tom how and what to eat for his breakfast. But mainly, she wants to talk about Laura. Amanda feels that Laura broods about Tom's unhappiness. She then inquires as to why Tom goes so often to the movies. Tom explains that he likes adventure. Amanda maintains that a man finds adventure in his work or else he does without it. When Tom attempts to explain that man is, by instinct, a lover, hunter, and so forth, Amanda recoils and will not listen to talk about instinct.
Amanda tells Tom that they must be making plans for Laura. She has seen the letter that Tom has received from the Merchant Marine and knows that he is planning to leave them, but she tells Tom that he must first see to it that Laura is provided for, because Laura can't spend her life playing old phonograph records and fooling with "those pieces of glass." Amanda then asks Tom to see if he can find some nice young man at the warehouse and bring him home for dinner in order to meet Laura. Tom promises to try to find someone and immediately Amanda renews her campaign to get more subscribers for her magazine.
When Tom returns from the movies, he emphasizes his desire to escape by talking about the magician who was nailed in a coffin and got out. He then compares his apartment and his situation in life to that of the magician climbing into a coffin — now the question is: how can he get out of his coffin?
Notice that Laura trips on the outside fire escape, a device used to suggest her fear of the outside world.
As soon as Tom apologizes to his mother, she maintains theatrically that her devotion has made her a witch and hateful to her children. There is a great deal of truth in this statement. Her overzealous devotion causes her to nag and almost persecute them.
The quarrel has hardly cooled off before Amanda returns to her old nagging self. She immediately begins to direct Tom as to how he should drink his coffee and what he should eat.
The difference between Amanda and Tom is most clearly seen in this scene in their discussion of instinct. Tom is the poet and feels that man should live by his feelings and by his instinct. He feels that he is being destroyed as an individual by being forced to live all cramped up in the apartment and in the city. He seeks love, adventure, and romance. But these are the very qualities that Amanda's husband possessed and one day he followed his instincts and left home. Thus, Amanda views instinct as something bestial and vulgar. She wants a comfortable life within the bounds of prescribed propriety. Furthermore, Amanda refuses to recognize that her children have views different from hers.
Amanda here is realist enough to know that Tom is reaching a point of desperation. She tells him that he can leave anytime after Laura is taken care of. Thus she returns to the theme of the gentleman caller and wants Tom to bring one home with the hopes that Laura can find some place of her own.