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The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Scene 3

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Scene 3 of Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie | Scene 3 | Summary



Tom begins Scene 3 on the fire escape narrating events in the weeks since Amanda presented her plan to find Laura a husband as a way to secure their financial future. She has been obsessed with the idea of gentlemen callers, according to Tom. During the remainder of the winter and into early spring, Amanda has been soliciting her D.A.R. friends for subscriptions to The Homemaker's Companion magazine so she can finance this venture.

Tension eventually erupts when Amanda and Tom both lose their tempers from her pursuit of him. He is infuriated by his mother's intrusions into his life, her comments on the books he chooses, to monitoring his evening activities. She interrupts by correcting his tone of voice, his shouting, his vulgar language, and how his night-time behavior endangers his job. Because she will not accept his explanation of how he spends his evenings, he creates a fantastical story about a life of intrigue and heroic adventures on the edge of immorality. He ends his tirade by calling Amanda an "ugly—babbling, old—witch" and throwing his coat across the room. It lands on his sister's figurines. Several glass animals crash to the floor and break into shards, shocking the three characters into silence, Tom and Laura because of the action, Amanda because of Tom's insult.


The conflict between Amanda and Tom has been intensifying from Scene 1 when Amanda calls Tom to dinner, "We can't say grace until you come to the table!" and immediately starts criticizing him. Tom can no longer contain her obsessive attempts to control his life—from forbidding the works of D.H. Lawrence (well-known novels of the time which contain taboo sexual subjects and language, which is likely what Amanda calls "filth"), to chastising him for going to the movies and staying out late, and to finding a husband for Laura. The stage directions indicate a typewriter and papers strewn around it, so audiences can assume that Amanda has interrupted Tom's writing.

Amanda has been trying in her own way to maintain the veneer of respectability and earn extra money to finance her project—a husband for Laura. But after a prospective magazine subscriber hangs up on Amanda, her suppressed anger explodes. Vitriolic truths gush from Amanda and Tom's mouths—Tom raging against his job and home life, Amanda against hers, with the added fear of Tom's deserting her as her husband did. In the midst of the turmoil, the photograph of the absent Mr. Wingfield remains in its place, highly visible as a constant reminder of the past and potential void of the future.

Tom's anger in throwing his coat and accidentally breaking some of Laura's glass animals is significant as it reflects the situation: Tom's sense of reality and need to break away from the life inside that apartment will result in breaking illusions and abandoning his mother and sister. Not only is their relationship as fragile as the figurines, but the destructive emotions often hidden from each other by deceptions are now as transparent as the glass that shapes the animals. Amanda and Tom's fight is likely a point of no return.

The lighting that focuses on Laura throughout the quarrel serves to highlight her not only as a frightened observer but as the force that both keeps them together and draws them apart. It foreshadows Tom's inability to forget her and the final extinguishing of light at the end of the play, signifying complete disillusionment.

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