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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
The scene begins with Tom, as the narrator, describing how the idea of Laura having a gentleman caller became obsessive to his mother. It seemed to take a priority over everything else in Amanda's life. To handle any extra expenses that might come up as a result of Laura having a boyfriend, Amanda tries harder than ever to supplement the family income by selling a popular homemaker's magazine over the telephone When Tom turns to the action of the play, he and his mother are fighting because Amanda has returned Tom's book to the library. She refuses to have any work by D.H. Lawrence in her house. Tom, the only breadwinner in the family, angrily demands to know who pays the rent on "her" house. In disgust, Tom turns and tries to walk out and go to a movie, but Amanda restrains him. She tells him that he cannot expect to go out at night and then perform well at work. She also accuses him of lying about going to the movies and suspects that he is doing something shameful at night. Tom is very angry about her accusations. He reminds his mother how much he hates working at the shoe warehouse and explains that going out to the movies is his only escape from his monotonous, dull, and routine life.
Tom tells Amanda that he does not plan to waste his whole life working at the warehouse. She responds by calling him selfish and reminding him of his familial responsibility to support her and Laura; she claims he has no business jeopardizing their security by dreaming of adventures. Tom angrily retorts that the dead are better off than he is, for they do not have to "Rise and Shine" at the command of their mothers. He also calls Amanda a babbling witch. Then in anger, Tom, who has been struggling to put on his coat, takes it off and throws it across the room; in the process he breaks some of Laura's glass menagerie. Laura screams shrilly as if she had been personally wounded. Amanda is so stupefied by Tom's cruel words that she barely notices her daughter's near hysteria. Tom, however, makes an awkward attempt to retrieve the fallen animals. He glances at Laura shamefully, but is unable to speak.
This scene portrays Tom's domestic tragedy, picturing him as a prisoner of circumstances. In deserting the family, Tom's father has put an albatross round the son's neck. Amanda's fear of having to eat "the crust of humility" causes her to make Tom feel duty-bound and guilty. Tom is definitely not free to pursue his own life or even his literary interests. His mother nags at him constantly and tries to run his life. At the same time she chides him for any interests that he pursues. She questions how anyone could go to the movies so often and even wonders out loud if he really goes to a theater when he leaves at night. She also will not permit him to read what he chooses, returning a library book by D.H. Lawrence without telling him.
As the previous scene showed how Amanda did not understand Laura, this scene shows how she does not understand Tom. By the end of this scene, the reader realizes how completely Amanda has failed to recognize her children as individuals or accept who they really are. She gives them no 'space' to breathe or grow freely. Her fear that Tom may desert her, like her husband, is also obvious; when Tom, in anger, tries to leave the house, Amanda physically restrains him and reminds him how much he hates his father's desertion.
Amanda is shown to have one admirable quality -- a zealous determination. Once she makes up her mind to do something, she throws herself wholeheartedly into accomplishing it. In this scene, she doggedly searches for ways to find a husband for Laura. This dedication is a quality that neither Tom nor Laura possesses or can appreciate.
It is important to notice Laura's reaction to the fight between her mother and brother. Her "closed fists and panicked expression" reveal her tension and fear; she blames herself for being the cause of the problems in this fatherless home. She sees her failure to learn stenography and typing skills in order to become self-sufficient as the reason that Amanda nags Tom about his familial responsibilities. She feels that she stands in the way of Tom's pursuing his own interests. When Tom throws his coat and breaks part of the glass menagerie at the end of the scene, Laura gives a loud, shrill scream. The broken menagerie becomes a symbol of Laura's broken emotions, the broken family relations that exist between the three of them, and the broken dreams and illusions of their lives. Tom's guilt at "shattering" the menagerie is significant; unlike his mother, he accepts how important the glass animals are to Laura.