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Free Study Guide-The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams-Book Notes
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As the scene opens, Laura is fearfully huddled on the sofa as the others finish dinner. While the curtain rises, there is a power outage. Amanda tells a joke and asks Jim to check the fuse. When Jim finds nothing amiss, Amanda rightly guesses that Tom has neglected to pay the light bill. She decides to use the darkness to benefit a meeting between Laura and Jim. She gives Jim a candle and asks him to take Laura some wine and keep her company while she and Tom clean the dishes.

Laura sits up nervously when Jim enters. By contrast, he is completely at ease, seating himself on the floor. When he asks her how she is feeling, she can barely speak because of her nervousness; however, as the scene progresses, she warms up and even joins Jim on the floor. When Laura asks him if he has kept up his singing, he recollects that they had known each other in high school and that he used to call her 'Blue Roses' even though he does not remember why. They talk about the singing class they had taken together, and Laura painfully recollects her embarrassment over thunderously clumping her foot because of her brace. Jim tells her that she had been too self-conscious.

Laura produces the school yearbook, and they browse through it together. Jim relives his past successes with relish, and Laura basks happily in his presence. When she tells him that she could never bring herself to ask him to autograph the operetta program, he promptly signs it with a flourish. Jim then asks her about her life after school. Laura mentions her business course fiasco and then defends her failure by saying that her glass collection takes up a lot of her time and energy. Jim then succinctly analyzes her inferiority complex and speaks of his own past and future plans, admitting that he is not pleased with his lack of progress in life.

Laura then shows Jim her glass menagerie. He is fascinated with the lone unicorn in the set. When music drifts from the dance hall across the alley, Jim urges Laura to dance with him. She recoils in terror, but he calmly reassures her. As they take a few turns, they bump against the table and the glass unicorn falls and loses its horn. Jim apologizes. Laura remarks, "It's no tragedy. . . The horn was removed to make him feel less -- freakish!"

Jim remarks on Laura's nature, saying she is "surprisingly different from anyone else I know!" He admits that her presence makes him tongue-tied. After admiring her prettiness, Jim kisses Laura, who sinks on to the sofa in a dazed state. Jim backs off and regains control. He then tells Laura that he is engaged to be married and apologizes if he has hurt her feelings. It is evident that it is difficult for Laura to digest Jim's news. Laura braves the emotional storm raging in her heart and musters the courage to give Jim the now hornless glass unicorn as a memento. She then goes back to her phonograph to wind it.

Amanda rushes brightly into the living room with fruit punch and snacks. As she enthusiastically babble about Jim being a frequent visitor in their home in the future, Jim stops her short. He explains to her that he is engaged to be married. Amanda bluntly retorts that Tom had not said anything about Jim's engagement. Jim admits that it is still a secret. Amanda wishes Jim luck and happiness as he departs. He must leave quickly in order to pick up his fiancée at the train station, for she is returning from a trip. Amanda then turns on Tom and accuses him of having played a cruel joke on Laura and her. To avoid fighting with his mother, Tom tries to depart for the movies. When she calls him a 'selfish dreamer', he smashes his glass of fruit punch and storms out of the house.

Tom, back in his narrator's role, delivers an epilogue to the action of the play. He tells how he soon left Saint Louis after being fired from the warehouse for writing a poem on the lid of a shoebox. As planned, he became a sailor and traveled around quite a bit. Whenever he walked past shop windows in distant towns and he saw tiny glass bottles or figures, he would be reminded of Laura. He still feels guilty about deserting her and Amanda.


This, the longest scene in the play, presents the climax of the plot, for Amanda is forced to face her illusions. Amanda's cleverness is seen in the way in which she manipulates the situation when the lights go out. She comes up with a plan to place Laura and Jim together alone, continuing to be the manipulative mother. At first it seems that things may turn out well. Laura actually sheds her nervousness and shows a touch of self-confidence. She seems to relax with Jim as they reminisce about high school, even showing some sense of humor. Her emotions for him steadily rise until Jim kisses her. She then sinks to the sofa in a dazed state. Jim, realizing how he has led the poor girl on, calls himself "stumble-John" and tells her that he is engaged to be married. Laura is crushed, but musters the courage to offer him the broken glass unicorn as a memento.

The fact that Tom has not paid the electricity bill, causing the lights to be cut off, is very symbolic. It foreshadows his future desertion of the family and the darkness into which Amanda and Laura will fall as a result of his quest for adventure. During this scene, however, Tom is a sympathetic character, for he has tried his best to do what Amanda has wanted by bringing home a gentleman caller. Now Amanda turns on him and unjustly accuses Tom of deliberately inviting an engaged man and trying to ridicule Laura and her. When she deplores the waste of time, money, and energy the dinner entailed, the audience remembers that in Scene Five, Tom had expressly advised Amanda against elaborate preparations for Jim. Amanda, however, refused to listen to her son, as always. Not wanting to admit the foolishness of her ways, Amanda makes Tom the scapegoat for the failure of the evening.

It is significant that the high school yearbook is named "The Torch." Jim is the boy on whom Laura had a crush during high school, and she still carries "a torch," a flame of love, for him, as evidenced by the fact that she has only recently talked about him to her mother. As the two of them talk about high school memories, Laura actually retrieves "The Torch" so they can look at the pictures of Jim together. Laura still sees him as the hero of his high school days, oblivious to his present mediocrity.

The glass unicorn with its odd horn in the middle of its head is, however, the predominant symbol in this scene. It is a rare and lovely creature that is as silent, fragile, strange, and "deformed" as Laura herself. Its horn, which makes it different that the other horses in the menagerie, is broken off when Laura and Jim dance to the music from the club across the alley. When the unicorn is made to look like the other horses in the set, it is symbolic of the fact that Laura has also lost her "horn" that makes her different; she forgets that she is a cripple and acts relaxed and happy around Jim, like a normal person. When Jim tells her about his engagement and starts to leave, she is crushed. She does, however, muster the courage to present the broken unicorn to him as a parting gift. It is an appropriate gesture, for she is a broken person that will again turn into a strange creature, not like other normal people.

The climax occurs when Amanda learns of Jim's engagement. Unlike Laura, who was gracious about the news, Amanda is horrified, rude, and outspoken. Like the unicorn, her dreams are broken. In her disappointment, she turns on Tom, falsely accusing him of making a fool of Laura and her. She then rants and raves about the trouble and expense of the evening, really making a fool of herself. The truth is that Amanda has finally been forced to realize the folly of her illusions. She cannot make her dreams come true or manipulate her children into the life she wants for them. This becomes especially clear when Tom, as the narrator, tells of his being fired from the shoe warehouse and becoming a sailor. Unfortunately, he cannot find any real happiness, for he is plagued by guilt for abandoning the family. The audience is left to imagine Amanda's misery at being deserted by both a husband and a son. The play definitely ends in tragedy for everyone, especially Amanda.

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Free Study Guide-The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams-Book Notes


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