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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
Tom, as the narrator, gives additional information about Jim. The young man was popular, versatile, and well-rounded in high; he was a star basketball player and debater. After graduation, he seemed to lose his momentum. At the present, he has a job at the warehouse that is not much better than Tom's. Since the two men have befriended one another, both have benefited. Jim enjoys the fact that Tom was an eyewitness to his glorious high school days. Jim's friendliness towards Tom helps him to be accepted by their co- workers, who were suspicious of Tom because he enjoyed writing and composing poems during his free time.
When the scene opens on a Friday evening in spring, the effect of Amanda's slavish preparations for Jim's arrival are apparent. She has bought a new floor lamp, put up curtains, made chintz pillow covers, and sofa pillows. She has converted the small apartment into an attractive place. She is now adjusting the hem of Laura's new dress. With her hair styled differently, Laura is more becoming. There is a fragile, innocent, and radiant prettiness about her. Laura complains that all this fuss has made her extremely nervous. When Amanda tries to highlight Laura's figure Laura protests, but her mother overrides her objections. She then asks Laura to admire herself while she goes to dress. Amanda soon appears in a girlish dress, a relic from her youth. Carrying a bunch of jonquils, Amanda reminisces about the various occasions on which she had worn the dress and how she had been crazy about jonquils when she had met Laura's father.
Amanda abruptly changes the subject by saying that she has asked Tom to bring Mr. O'Connor home in the service car. Upon hearing the young man's last name, Laura wishes to know his first name. When she learns that it is Jim, Laura asks if it is the same Jim that Tom knew in high school. Amanda has no idea; all she knows is that Jim is Tom's co-worker. Laura, with some effort, tells her mother that if it is the Jim O'Connor from high school, she would like to be excused for the evening. Amanda will not hear of it. As she turns to go to the kitchen, she insists that Laura will welcome Jim.
When the doorbell actually rings, Laura's panic rises and her gestures indicate that she feels suffocated and nauseous. Amanda enters the room and initially urges and then eventually orders Laura to open the door, even though Laura says that she is feeling sick. After the introductions, Laura seeks refuge in the victrola, darting away like a scared rabbit. Jim's outgoing manner contrasts sharply with Laura's acutely nervous gestures. Jim expresses surprise to learn that 'Shakespeare' Tom has a sister.
Tom apologizes for Laura's shyness and hands Jim the sports section of the newspaper. When Jim talks about sports, Tom is disinterested and goes out on the terrace. Jim joins him, and they discuss the warehouse. Jim urges Tom to take a course in public speaking and follows it with a warning that otherwise Tom may lose his job. Tom is indifferent. He gleefully tells Jim that his future plans are made. He has used the money for the electricity bill to pay his membership fees at the union of Merchant Seaman. He wants to become a sailor and find real adventure. Tom warns Jim not to mention his plans to Amanda, for he has not yet told her.
Amanda joins them on the terrace. Tom is struck dumb at her appearance, and even Jim, for all his politeness, appears stunned. Amanda's laughter and constant chatter dominate the rest of this scene. She talks about a great many things, including the weather, her dress, Laura, her own gentlemen callers, and her past gracious southern lifestyle. She also praises Jim lavishly.
When Tom asks when they are going to eat, Amanda tells him to check with Laura. Tom returns to say that dinner is ready and that Laura has asked to be excused, for she is not well. Amanda refuses to begin to eat until Laura joins them. When Laura finally appears, it is evident that she is sick, stumbling against a chair. When Amanda sees that Laura is actually ill, she instructs Tom to help his sister to the sofa. As Tom returns to the table and begins grace, Laura shudders on the sofa in the living room.
Wanting to impress Jim and improve Laura's chances, Amanda, with determination, decorates the apartment; it is much nicer than before. She next sets about transforming Laura. The girl has a new hair-do, and Amanda is seen hemming her new dress. Like the apartment, Laura is much improved in appearance. Williams' comparison of the girl to "a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting" is ominously indicative that Laura will not be able to find permanent beauty or happiness.
All of Amanda's preparations have made Laura extremely nervous. She does not feel up to handling a gentleman caller, for she knows her social graces are lacking. Then when Jim O'Connor's name is mentioned, Laura's nervousness increases. She is terrified that it may be the same Jim she has known in high school. She tells her mother she must be excused from dinner, but Amanda will not hear of it. Once again, Amanda shows her total lack of understanding of her children. She dismisses their wants and needs to follow her own agenda. The end result is that Laura, in her nervous state, becomes physically ill. When Amanda demands that she come in for dinner, she can hardly support herself and stumbles against a chair. Tom leads her to the sofa, where she shudders with nervousness and embarrassment.
Unlike Laura, Amanda looks forward to entertaining Jim and carefully prepares herself for the evening. Her youthful appearance, wearing a girlish frock and carrying jonquils, makes her look ridiculous. It is like she is trying to recapture her youth and attract Jim for herself. Laura, Tom, and Jim are all shocked at her dress. When Jim arrives, she monopolizes the conversation, often speaking with a Southern accent, and laughs frequently, in an attempt to be charming.
For the first time in the play, Tom speaks to someone else about his concrete plans for the future. He tells Jim he plans to be come a sailor in order to find some real adventure. In fact, he has used the money for the electricity bill to pay his union dues to the merchant marines. He is about to desert the family, just as his father before him.