The Glass Menagerie: Novel Summary: Scenes 6
Tom speaks, looking back on the past. He says he knew that Laura and Jim O'Connor had been acquainted in high school, but he did not know whether Jim remembered her.
On a Friday evening, at about five, everything is ready for Jim's arrival. Laura is so nervous she trembles. Amanda stuffs a couple of pads down Laura's dress, because she is flat-chested. Laura says she will not wear them. Amanda disappears and then re-emerges wearing girlish dress, one that she wore when she was young. She wore it for her gentleman callers, and was wearing it the day she met her husband. Then she lets slip that the young man's name is Jim O'Connor. Laura fears that it may be the boy she knew in high school, whom she liked. If it is the same boy, she says she will not come to the dinner table. Amanda tries to reassure her that it will not be the same person.
The doorbell rings, and Amanda tells Laura to answer it. Laura pleads with her mother, and says she is sick. But Amanda insists the she open the door. Tom introduces Jim to Laura and she manages to get out a few anxious words before excusing herself. Tom explains to Jim that she is terribly shy.
After glancing at the newspaper, Jim and Tom go out on to the fire-escape. Jim talks about how his public speaking course has helped him. He says the most important thing in life is social poise, being able to hold your own on many levels. He also tells Tom that one of the supervisors, a Mr. Mendoza, has indicated that Tom will be out of a job soon if he doesn't wake up. Tom says he is waking up, but the signs of it are interior. He is ready to go to sea. He is tired of going to the movies all the time, and wants some adventure of his own. He shows Jim his membership card of the Union of Merchant Seamen. He paid his dues instead of paying the electricity bill. When the lights go off, he says, he won't be there.
They go inside, where Amanda greets them. She turns on the excessive charm. Jim is taken aback at first, but quickly adjusts. She chatters on, hardly letting Jim get a word in edgewise.
Supper is on the table, but Laura has not appeared. After Amanda calls her, she comes in but walks unsteadily. She is obviously terrified. She stumbles and catches at a chair. Amanda realizes she really is sick, and tells Tom to help her to the living room, where she rests on the sofa.
The scene ends as Tom says grace before the meal, and Laura holds her hand to her mouth to hold back a sob.
Amanda's frantic preparations, and the dress she wears, are out of all proportion to the event. Once more shows how she is still living in an idealized southern past, in which invitations for young ladies keep pouring in and there were parties all over the Delta: "Evenings, dances!-Afternoons, long, long rides! Picnics-lovely!-So lovely, that country in May.-All lacy, with dogwood, literally flooded with jonquils!"
Jim is a sharp contrast to the other three characters. Just as he arrives, Amanda says in frustration to Laura, "Why can't you and your brother be normal people?" Jim is one of those normal people. He has found that real life is much harder than being in high school, where he was outstanding, and in six years he has not advanced very far in life. But he is ambitious, and ready to take his place in the American mainstream (unlike any of the marginalized Wingfield family). His chosen interest is radio engineering and television-the industries of the future, and his evening classes in public speaking make it clear that he believes in the American Dream. He believes that if you work hard and study, you can get ahead, which is an ethos that Amanda has earlier tried to instill in Tom, without any success. Jim is therefore attuned to the society in which he lives, but Amanda, Laura and Tom are all, in their different ways, people who do not fit in.