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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
Tom comes back from the movies at around 5 a.m. Tom's unsteady movements indicate that he has been drinking. He searches for the door-key and drops it. He also drops movie-ticket stubs and an empty bottle. Laura is awake. As he gropes for the key, Laura, hearing the noise, opens the door. When she asks him why he has been out all night, he goes into a lengthy explanation of all the items that were shown at the theater. He then describes a magic show in which one of the magicians gets nailed in a coffin and then disappears without removing a single nail. He wishes he could use the same trick to escape from his coffin-like life. When he chuckles about the magician's escape, the photograph of Tom's dad lights up as a reminder that he has managed to escape.
When Tom begins to take off his things, Laura asks him not to wake the sleeping Amanda. An hour later, Amanda's alarm clock goes off and she calls, "Rise and Shine! Rise and Shine!" Tom's reply, "I'll rise--but I won't shine," is important. Since Amanda is not on talking terms with Tom after the previous night's argument, she addresses her son through Laura. This is interspersed with Laura's beseeching Tom to apologize to their mother. At first he refuses, but finally relents.
Amanda sends Laura to the store to buy butter on credit. Laura has her qualms about going. As she descends the fire-escape steps, she trips and falls. Tom rushes to the door to check on his sister; Amanda is also concerned. Laura, however, is not seriously hurt. When Tom and Amanda are alone, he reluctantly apologizes to her. Amanda responds by sobbing; she says that her devotion to her children has made her into a witch. She claims that neither Tom nor Laura realizes that her concern for their welfare gives her sleepless nights. She speaks of the solitary battle she has endured for many years in order to run the house. She now beseeches Tom not to fail them and encourages him to succeed. She makes Tom promise that he will never become an alcoholic.
Amanda again becomes the nagging mother. She tells Tom how he should have his coffee, which angers him. She quickly changes the topic. She tells him that life is not easy; it requires "Spartan endurance". She then speaks of her love for her ex-husband and reveals that there is much in her heart that she cannot disclose. When Tom echoes her sentiments, she criticizes his restlessness and admonishes him for seeing too many movies. Tom explains that he longs for adventure and that at least the movies break the monotony of his boring life at the warehouse. He also says that male instinct makes every man "a lover, a hunter, a fighter." Amanda recoils from his words, associating them with bestial instincts. She tells Tom he needs to pursue superior things -- "things of the mind and the spirit". Amanda is troubled, for Tom increasingly takes after his father -- in his love for adventure, in his notion that life is controlled by instinct, and in his increasing absences from the house, especially at odd hours of the night.
When Tom reminds her that he is going to be late for work, Amanda turns to the subject of Laura. She laments that Laura, two years older than her brother, mopes around and drifts along, doing nothing useful. She pleads with Tom to see Laura settled in a house of her own before joining the Merchant Marines. She knows of his interest in being a sailor, for she has seen the letter he has received. She tells him to stop being selfish. She also begs him to invite some young men from the warehouse home for Laura to meet. Tom is, at first; aghast at her suggestion; but as she continues to beg, he promises to have someone over for dinner.
After Tom's departure, Amanda's manner suddenly changes. She phones a housewife to try and get her to renew her subscription for the homemaker's magazine.
When Tom returns from the movies, it is early in the morning, and he is drunk. The movie stubs and bottle that fall out of his pocket serve as proof to what he has really being doing. It is obvious that he is living life as an escape from reality by drinking and dreaming. Laura is obviously aware of what Tom does when he leaves home and nervously stays awake until he returns.
Other new aspects of the characters of Laura and Amanda are presented in this scene. For the first time in the play, Laura takes some initiative; she tries to patch up the quarrel between her brother and her mother. She is also seen to be protective. She is up in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for Tom to return. She also begs him not to awaken their mother. She does not want there to be another quarrel. Amanda is also seen treating Tom almost as if he were an adult. Amanda reveals to him that she still has love in her heart for her husband, even though he deserted her. She also abhors alcohol because her husband was a drunk. She is greatly afraid that Tom will turn out to be just like his father.
When Amanda sends Laura out to get butter, she dreads going, for she always fears facing the outside world. She especially dislikes the thought of having to buy the butter on credit. In her nervousness, she trips on the fire-escape steps. Tom is genuinely concerned about his sister's welfare. Amanda seems to have a false concern for her. Fortunately, Laura does not hurt herself.
When Amanda is left alone with Tom, she confides in him, talking about her husband and his desertion like a wronged woman. She begs Tom not to become an alcoholic like his father and not to be selfish like him. She tries to make her son feel guilty about having any thoughts of leaving home, reminding him that Laura is totally dependent on him. Tom, however, harbors a deep desire to flee from home and become a sailor.
It is not surprising that Tom is particularly attracted to the magic act where the magician escapes from a nailed coffin, symbolizing death; like the magician, Tom would like to escape his own death- like existence. As he talks about the escape of the magician, the picture of Tom's father appropriately lights up, highlighting the fact that his man has managed to escape from this coffin-like existence with Amanda, just as Tom wants to do. The illumination of the picture gives Tom a new resolve to lead his own life.