The Glass Menagerie: Novel Summary: Scenes 7
Half an hour later, dinner is just being finished. Laura is still huddled on the sofa.
The lights go out. Amanda lights candles while Jim checks on the fuses, which are all intact. Amanda asks Tom about the bill, and it soon transpires that he did not pay it.
Amanda tells Jim to go and keep Laura company while she and Tom wash the dishes. Jim takes the candelabra and some wine with him, and talks to Laura in a gentle, humorous way, to help her overcome her shyness. He tells her about the Century of Progress exhibition he saw in Chicago the previous summer. He is excited about what the future holds for America.
Laura asks him whether he has kept up with his singing. Jim is surprised at her inquiry, and Laura supposes he does not remember her. He replies that he remembers her from somewhere, and when she responds with the nickname he gave her, Blue Roses, he remembers who she is. Jim wonders why she didn't say something when he arrived, but she says she was too surprised.
They recall a choral singing class they took together, and Jim remembers that she always came in late. She explains that that was because of the leg brace she wore, but Jim says he never noticed it. When Laura confesses that she never had much luck making friends, Jim tries to help her overcome her shyness, telling her that people are not so dreadful when you get to know them.
He recalls how in high school there was a write-up about him in the yearbook that said he was bound to succeed in anything he went into. Laura produces the book, and points to a photo of Jim performing in an operetta. She tells him she went to all three performances and wanted to ask him to autograph her program, but he was always surrounded by his own friends. Jim signs the yearbook for her with a flourish. Laura then finds out from him that he never married the girl the yearbook says he was engaged to.
Jim inquires about what she has been doing since high school, and she confesses to dropping out of business school. She doesn't do much, she says, and tells him about her collection of glass animals.
Jim says that her problem is that she has an inferiority complex. She lacks confidence in herself as a person. He advises her to think of herself as superior in some way. Everyone excels in something, he says; you just have to discover what it is. Then he talks about his interest in radio engineering and how he believes in the future of television. He is already making the right connections so he can get into this new industry.
After he asks her whether there is something she takes more interest in than anything else, she shows him her glass collection, and gives him a glass unicorn to hold.
Jim invites her to dance, and overcomes her objection that she has never danced in her life. As he swings her around the floor, they bump into the table, and the unicorn falls off and breaks. Jim is very apologetic, but Laura says it doesn't matter.
Jim tells her that she is different from anyone else he knows. He asks her whether anyone has ever told her she is pretty, and says he wishes she were his sister; he would teach her to have confidence in herself. He then takes her hand and kisses her on the mouth.
Realizing his mistake, Jim backs off, lights a cigarette, and says he shouldn't have kissed her. He confesses that he has a regular girlfriend called Betty, with whom he is in love.
Laura is devastated by this, but she tries to recover. She offers him the broken unicorn, as a souvenir.
At that moment, Amanda comes into the room, chattering gaily. She anticipates Jim coming often to call on them. Jim says he must be going, and mentions Betty's name, saying they are engaged to be married.
Amanda is stunned, but she puts a brave face on this unwelcome news, wishing Jim luck, happiness, and success.
After Jim has left, Amanda confronts Tom. She finds it hard to believe his protests that he had no idea Jim was engaged. Tom says he is going to the movies. He smashes his glass on the floor and rushes out. Laura screams.
In Tom's final speech, he looks back from his later viewpoint. He was fired from his job, and left St. Louis, traveling from city to city. But wherever he goes, he cannot forget Laura. Whenever he sees some transparent glass, or a familiar piece of music, he thinks of her. He tries to distract himself from the memory by telling her to blow her candles out.
Laura, who has been acting out a soundless scene with Amanda while Tom has been speaking, blows out the candles, ending the play.
This is the longest scene in the play, and takes up about one-third of the action. It is dramatically effective in part because it focuses on the meeting between the extravert Jim and the introvert Laura. Will he succeed in drawing her out? Will he be the Prince Charming to her Cinderella? But the audience senses that this cannot be.
Jim does his best with Laura, using what he has learned in his night school classes about how to have self-confidence in dealing with others. The "pop" psychology has been good enough for him in his quest to improve himself, but poor Laura is in need of much more than a pep talk. Jim is well-meaning, but he allows his enthusiasm to run away with him. His clumsy breaking of the glass unicorn is a very obvious piece of symbolism, foreshadowing his unintentional shattering of Laura a few moments later.
Laura is broken completely by this sudden disillusionment. As the playwright puts it as the scene with Laura and Jim begins, this scene "is the climax of her secret life." The truth is that in six years, she has not forgotten Jim, even though they were barely acquainted with each other. For Laura to live without hope is one thing, but to have hope and joy suddenly erupt so unexpectedly, followed by their sudden loss, is an even more devastating experience than mere hopelessness. The look on Laura's face is one of "almost infinite desolation."
After Jim's departure, the play draws to a close with the predictable pattern reasserting itself, as Amanda accuses Tom of selfishness and he goes out to the movies. Nothing much has changed in these difficult, restricted lives.
At the end, as Tom describes his life since he escaped from this stifling environment, the audience watches Amanda and Laura acting out a soundless pantomime; it is as if the characters are behind transparent, soundproof glass. They have both become like members of a glass menagerie, cut off in an unfulfilled, desperate and fragile world of their own.