The Glass Menagerie: Novel Summary: Scenes 5
It is a spring evening in 1939. The family has just finished supper, and Amanda, as usual, is telling Tom what to do. He should comb his hair more frequently. When Tom, irritated, goes out for a smoke, she tells him that he smokes too much. He should save the money instead.
Tom goes out and speaks directly to the audience. He describes what the Paradise Dance Hall, which is just across the alley, was like on spring evenings. He explains that world events (the coming of World War II) would soon produce adventure and change for all the young people in the area. But until that happened, there was only swing music, liquor, dance halls, bars, movies and sex.
Amanda joins him on the fire-escape, and they make a wish on the moon. Tom keeps his a secret, but Amanda says she wished for the success and happiness of her children.
Tom tells her that he has arranged for a gentleman caller for Laura. Amanda is first excited and then flustered when Tom tells her that the young man is coming for dinner tomorrow. She says she needs more time to make preparations, but Tom chides her for making a fuss. Amanda wants to know whether the young man, whose name is O'Connor, drinks. Tom says he is not aware of any drinking problem; he is impatient with his mother's fears about men who drink.
As Amanda questions Tom further about his friend, it transpires that he is a shipping clerk at the warehouse, and he earns more than Tom. Amanda says that his salary is not enough for a family man, but Tom points out that O'Connor is not a family man. But he might be in the future, is Amanda's reply.
She hopes O'Connor is not too good-looking, and Tom confirms that he is rather homely. He goes to night school, studying radio engineering and public speaking, which pleases Amanda, since she thinks that shows ambition. Tom explains that he did not tell Jim anything about Laura, and warns his mother not to expect too much of her. Laura is crippled, shy, and lives in a world of her own; she is not like other girls. Tom tells his mother she must face the facts.
Tom then exits, saying he is going to the movies. Amanda calls Laura over and tells her to make a wish on the moon. Laura asks what she should wish for, and Amanda tells her to wish for happiness and good fortune.
The scene begins and ends with wishful thinking, as first Tom and Amanda and then Amanda and Laura make wishes on the moon. For Amanda, this kind of thinking is all she has left. It highlights the gap between the harsh and unpromising world she lives in and her efforts, some practical and others based on romantic illusions, to break out of it and make her life bearable.
In this scene Tom makes another attempt to paint the wider social background, when he mentions Berchtesgaden (Adolf Hitler's summer retreat), Neville Chamberlain (the British prime minister who thought he had negotiated a peace treaty with Hitler at Munich in 1938) and Guernica. Guernica was a Basque village which was attacked by Nazi bombers on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The planes dropped 100,000 pounds of bombs and incendiaries. Seventy percent of the town was destroyed and 1,500 people, a third of the population, were killed.