Summary and Analysis
Tom explains about Jim O'Connor. In high school, he had been the outstanding boy who had won basketball games and the silver cup in debating. But apparently his speed slowed down after graduation because he was holding a job not much better than Tom's. But Tom explains that Jim was his only friend at the warehouse because Tom was valuable to Jim's ego as a person who could remember his greatness in high school.
The scene then opens on Amanda and Laura as they are preparing for the arrival of the gentleman caller. Laura complains that her mother is making her nervous, but Amanda continues to fuss over Laura and even uses two powder puffs to pad Laura's breasts. Amanda goes away to dress herself and appears a little later wearing a very girlish frock held over from her youth and carrying a bunch of jonquils — "the legend of her youth." Amanda tells Laura that she is to open the door when Mr. O'Connor comes. Laura is taken aback by this name and when she hears that the first name is Jim, she tells Amanda that she won't be able to come to the dinner table. Since this would destroy all of Amanda's plans, she will not abide Laura's "silliness." Amanda disappears into the kitchen, and, when the doorbell rings, she calls merrily to Laura to answer the door. Laura begs her mother to open the door and tells her that she is sick. Amanda forces Laura to open the door. After she has let them in, Laura retreats as quickly as possible into the other room. Tom and Jim talk about the warehouse. Jim warns Tom that he is on the verge of losing his job, but Tom replies that his future plans don't include working at the warehouse. He has used the money for the last light bill to pay his dues at the Merchant Seaman's Union. But he warns Jim not to mention it because his mother doesn't yet know of his plans.
Amanda comes in and meets Jim O'Connor. She immediately bombards him with a long talk about weather, her gentlemen callers, and her past life. When Tom comes back from checking on the supper, he says that supper is already on the table and that Laura is not feeling well but Amanda refuses to begin supper until Laura comes. Laura enters and stumbles over a chair. Finally, Amanda notices that Laura is actually sick and tells Tom to help her to the living room. Laura lies shuddering on the couch while the others begin the evening meal.
Tom, in summing up Jim O'Connor, seems to see him as just a plain individual. Certainly during the course of the play, he shows no exceptional qualities. Quite the contrary, in the next scene, he will be seen as a rather blundering and awkward person.
Notice that a large part of Laura's nervousness and sickness in this scene is brought about by Amanda's constant fretting and bothering. Laura even says to her: "Mother, you've made me so nervous." Again this shows Amanda's inability to understand her children. This is emphasized again when Amanda tells Laura that "you couldn't be satisfied with just sitting home." In reality, Laura would be quite content to remain home alone — she seems at this point to have no desire to meet other people.
Before Jim O'Connor arrives, Amanda is busy changing into the dress that she wore when she met her husband. Again, it is difficult to know whether Amanda wants gentlemen callers for herself or for Laura. Certainly, she wants Laura to get married, but it will be seen to be Amanda who enjoys the idea of having the gentleman caller. She reverts back to her girlish days in both behavior and dress, and she appears with jonquils, the same flowers she carried the summer she met her husband.
During the course of the conversation, Amanda mentions Mr. O'Connor's name. At this point Laura finds out that it is possibly the same Jim O'Connor she had a crush on in high school, and she tells Amanda that she will have to be excused. But Amanda will have no part of this "silliness." She forces Laura to open the door even though Laura is visibly agitated. Again, Amanda tries to make her children conform to her idea of behavior rather than letting them assert their own personalities.
Notice here the stage direction. As soon as Laura opens the door, she rushes across the room to the phonograph. Her crossing the stage with her limp emphasizes her agitated state. Likewise, her retreat to the phonograph suggests her reliance upon her own world rather than meeting with the new world represented by the gentleman caller.
Jim O'Connor's conversation about his course in public speaking again reveals him to be a rather prosaic character. By this point, it is rapidly becoming apparent that he is no great hero, except to Laura who remembers his great achievements during their high school days.
This scene is the first definite evidence (outside of the prologue) that Tom is actually taking a step toward escaping from his present situation. He has used the money for the light bill in order to pay his dues with the Merchant Seaman's Union.
Notice how Amanda, upon first meeting Jim O'Connor, almost overwhelms him with conversation. Here she displays all the "charm" that she can recapture.
Again, ignoring Laura's feelings, Amanda forces Laura to come to the table. It is not until Laura stumbles and almost faints that Amanda finally realizes that Laura is actually sick.