Summary and Analysis
As the curtain rises, we see Laura still lying huddled on the sofa. Just as the others are finishing dinner, the lights go out, but Amanda calmly lights the candles and asks Jim if he would check on the fuses. She realizes that Tom probably didn't pay the light bill, so as punishment she makes him help with the dishes while Mr. O'Connor keeps Laura company. She asks him to take Laura a little wine to drink.
As Jim O'Connor approaches Laura, she sits up nervously. But Jim casually sits on the floor and asks Laura if she doesn't like to sit on the floor. He then chews some gum and offers her some. He asks her frankly why she is shy and refers to her as "an old-fashioned type of girl." When Laura asks him if he has kept up with his singing, Jim then remembers that they knew each other in high school. When Laura mentions that she was always late for their singing class because she was crippled and her brace clumped so loudly, Jim maintains that he never noticed it. He thinks that Laura was too self-conscious.
Laura brings out the high school year book which has pictures of Jim singing the lead role in an operetta. Laura tells Jim that she always wanted to ask him to autograph her book, but he was so terribly popular. Jim gallantly signs it for her now. When Laura asks Jim about his high school girl friend, he tells her that it was just rumor. Jim wonders what Laura has done since high school. She tells him about the business college and begins to tell about her glass collection; then Jim interrupts her and explains how she has an inferiority complex. When he finishes, Laura shows him her glass collection. Even though Jim is afraid that he will break one, Laura tells him that he can handle them. She even shows him her prize — her glass unicorn which is thirteen years old. Jim wonders if the unicorn doesn't feel strange since it is so different. Laura tells him that the unicorn doesn't complain and seems to get along nicely with the other animals.
Jim hears some music from the neighboring dance hall and asks Laura to dance. Even though she protests that she can't, Jim insists and during the dance, they stumble against the table and they break the horn off the unicorn. Laura maintains now that it is like the other horses. Jim tries to tell Laura how different she is — that she has a charm that is as different as "blue roses." He then says that someone should kiss Laura, and he leans over and kisses her. Almost immediately he knows that he has done the wrong thing, and he tells her that he shouldn't have kissed her because he is engaged to be married in the next month. After he finishes with his explanation, Laura gives him the broken unicorn. At this point Amanda enters with a pitcher of lemonade. After flitting about and chattering, she is about to leave when Jim explains that he has to go because he is engaged. Amanda is surprised and says that Tom didn't tell them that Jim was engaged. Jim explains that no one knows it yet, and then he leaves.
Amanda then calls Tom and accuses him of playing a joke on them by bringing home an engaged man. Even though Tom protests that he didn't know Jim was engaged, Amanda refuses to believe him. She holds Tom responsible for all of the expense involved in entertaining the gentleman caller and tells Tom that he is a selfish dreamer who never thinks about his "mother deserted and an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job." So Tom does leave. But as the scene closes, Tom says that even though he left, he could never forget his sister. Wherever he goes, he still thinks about her.
During the first part of this scene, Amanda's conduct does show that she knows how to entertain and that she is not overly distracted by the lights going out. She is also very careful to use this as an excuse to get Tom into the kitchen so as to leave the gentleman caller with Laura.
The scene between Laura and Jim O'Connor gives us our first view of Laura as a person. Suddenly, she comes alive as an individual, unique and different, but with her own charm that goes much deeper than the superficial gibbering of Amanda.
Note that as the scene progresses, Laura rapidly gains confidence in herself and begins to lose some of her shyness. She relaxes enough to show Jim her glass menagerie, a collection that she treasures and that she would not readily show to just anyone. It is then that she explains her preference for the unicorn, which like Laura, is different from the other animals; its uniqueness makes it Laura's favorite. Symbolically, the unicorn here represents Laura's own self. She is also different and unique. But she, like the unicorn, doesn't complain about being lonesome or unique, and like Laura, the unicorn is the most delicate of all the animals in the collection.
After looking at the collection, Jim proposes to Laura that they dance. He is still trying to build up her ego and to prove to her that she is not as different as she thinks herself to be. In other words, he is trying to break through to Laura; But the dance is used also as the method by which the unicorn is broken, and Jim's clumsiness can also break the delicate Laura.
As soon as the unicorn is broken, Laura maintains that now it does not feel as freakish and looks more like the other horses. Symbolically, Laura is feeling more normal now than she has ever felt. Even though Jim seems to the audience a rather ordinary young man, to Laura he is quite exceptional, and he has achieved his aim of bringing Laura somewhat out of her world of retreat.
After Jim makes his awkward confession about his engagement to Betty, Laura gives him the broken unicorn. Here the symbolism may be variously interpreted. We may see the broken unicorn as Laura's broken hopes, or we may say the broken unicorn is no longer unique like Laura but instead it is ordinary like Jim; or it may represent her broken hopes for love and romance, and she gives the symbol of her love to Jim to take away with him since he has broken her as well as her unicorn. That is, symbolically he takes away her broken unicorn and her broken love.
Some people may wish to quarrel with the presentation of this scene in a memory play; that is, if the play is presented as Tom's memory, then he couldn't possibly know what took place in this scene.
With Amanda's sudden attack on Tom for his allowing them to make such "fools of ourselves," we must remember that it was Tom who tried to get Amanda not to make a fuss, and that even Jim says Tom didn't know that he was engaged. But Amanda, realizing her own mistake, cannot take the blame for it. Suddenly, her charm leaves her, and we see her as just a nagging woman who cannot face reality. Here also her illusions leave her, and she even refers to Laura as "crippled."