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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Tom returns as narrator to tell you about Amanda's obsession: finding a nice young man to marry Laura. If you have ever known someone with a one-track mind you can appreciate what Amanda must have been like at the time. She even took a part-time job selling magazine subscriptions by telephone to earn extra money for re-doing both Laura and the apartment. Amanda is a woman of action as well as words.
While Tom doesn't object to his mother's frantic activities, he doesn't support them either. Rather, he thinks they are amusing. At least he seems to poke gentle fun at Amanda's efforts. But do you note an ache in Tom's recollection of Amanda on the telephone with Ida Scott? He remembers how pathetically Amanda tried to ingratiate herself with a customer who obviously didn't care. Rather than admit to his pain, Tom recalls the situation with bitter humor. Like many people who demonstrate a talent for laughter when their emotions are stirred, Tom may laugh to keep from crying. What does Tom's attitude reveal about his deepest feelings toward his mother?
As you continue with the play you'll have numerous chances to laugh
at comical lines (mostly Tom's) and situations. Some of the humor may
be pure, unadulterated fun. But some of it may strike you as humorous
only until you realize that the words or actions grow out of the characters'
desperation. Would Amanda, for instance, find humor in Tom's rendition
of her quest to find Laura a husband?
When Tom steps back into his role in the play, you find him embroiled in a shouting match with his mother. Evidently, she has interrupted him at his writing and has criticized the books he reads. "I won't allow such filth brought into my house!" screams Amanda. Tom won't permit Amanda to claim their apartment as "my house," for his salary pays the rent. Consider Tom's reasoning. Does the fact that he is the family breadwinner give him the right to disregard his mother's wishes?
The fury between mother and son intensifies. Tom is about to curse at his mother and rush out the door. Laura desperately calls out: "Tom!" At the sound of her voice, the shouting diminishes. Tom, now in control of his passion, talks intensely to Amanda about how he hates the life he leads.
NOTE: ON LAURA
Do you find yourself taking sides in the fight between Amanda and Tom? You're not given much choice when the antagonists are a bossy, narrow-minded woman and her selfish, irresponsible son. Since Tom and Amanda will fight to a draw anyway, pay attention to Laura's role in the conflict. Isn't she, after all, the reason that Tom and Amanda fight? If there were no Laura, Tom would probably have moved out of the house long ago, and Amanda would have no one to worry about but herself. As in all families, each member has a particular function. In the Wingfield household, Laura serves as peacemaker. You'll see her step between Tom and Amanda several more times in the play.
Tom's catalog of grievances includes a miserable job at the Continental Shoemakers warehouse. He also hates living in this wretched little apartment where he has a nagging mother, no privacy, and nothing to call his own. He feels like a slave to his job and family. Every morning when Amanda's piercing "Rise and shine!" awakens him, he'd prefer to be dead. No, he's not selfish, Tom replies to Amanda's accusation. If he were, he'd be like his father-gone!
Does Amanda lack compassion for her own son? It may seem so at times. Perhaps fear of the future and anxiety for Laura blind her to Tom's problems. All she can think of is that Tom's erratic and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes her security as well as Laura's. Since both she and Laura depend on Tom for life's necessities, does she have a good reason to be apprehensive? How would you feel about depending on Tom for your livelihood?
As Tom starts to leave again, Amanda grabs at him. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to the movies!" he replies brutally.
She calls him a liar, an accusation which launches him into a semi-tragic, semi-comic list of his nightly sins. Although you can find humor in Tom's speech, you may also be struck by the bitterness of his words. Although his speech is one of the funniest moments in the play, its tone is bitter and sarcastic. Tom concludes by calling Amanda an "ugly-babbling old-witch...."
As he rushes from the apartment, his arm gets caught in the sleeve of his bulky coat. Impatiently, he hurls the coat away. It strikes the shelf holding Laura's menagerie, shattering the glass animals. Laura is stunned. When you consider how highly Laura values her menagerie, its wreckage probably marks a turning point in her life. But how sharply she might change remains to be seen. Do you think she has the capacity to change very much?
You have seen that all the characters feel trapped by the circumstances of their lives. Since people naturally seek freedom, each has figured out a way to escape, at least temporarily: Amanda uses her illusions, Laura retires to her glass collection, Tom goes to the movies. How well each of these escape mechanisms works becomes clear in the next few scenes. Pay particular heed to Laura. See if the breaking of the glass menagerie sets her free from her illusory world. On the other hand, the damage to the glass could have the reverse effect. That is, it could shatter her inner peace.
Deeply hurt, Amanda calls after Tom, "I won't speak to you-until you apologize."