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The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Scene 5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Scene 5 of Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie | Scene 5 | Summary



It is spring. Laura and Amanda are cleaning up after dinner; Tom is reading the newspaper. Amanda hassles him about his messy hair and smoking too much because cigarettes cost money that could be saved to pay for a night-school accounting course. Tom says he would rather smoke. Once on the fire escape Tom becomes the narrator and explains that the Paradise Dance Hall, with its music and glittering chandelier, across the alley is the only excitement for young men and women like him. He alludes to a changing world by mentioning that all those who wished for adventure, as he did then, would soon be faced with World War II.

When Amanda joins him, commenting that the fire escape is a sorry excuse for a porch and seating herself as though settling onto a swing on a Mississippi veranda, Tom reverts to his character of her son. As they make wishes on the moon, Tom announces to his mother he has invited a friend from work for dinner, granting her wish for a gentleman caller. When she finds out that the dinner is for the next evening, Amanda becomes agitated over all the preparations they have to complete, including laundering table linens, polishing silver, washing windows, choosing attractive dresses for Laura and herself, and making dinner. She and her son discuss the young man, James O'Connor, and his ambitions, Amanda already seeing him as a husband for Laura. Tom tells Amanda that James O'Connor is studying radio engineering and public speaking at night, indicating to Amanda that he is ambitious.

Tom mentions he has not told Jim about Laura and brings up her differences. He mentions that her leg is not as important as her introversion and existence in an imaginary world of glass animals. His mother refuses to hear his concerns. After Amanda wins the hair conflict by brushing down Tom's cowlick before he takes off for the movies, she calls Laura outside with her to wish on the moon. Laura enters happily and asks her mother what to wish for.


The fire escape symbol gains prominence in this scene as the path from the illusionary life the Wingfields share to the freedom of the real world outside of their apartment. Tom becomes the narrator with an understanding of the real world when he stands on the fire escape, not the subservient son walled in by his mother's world when he is inside. For now, however, he is keeping one foot in each world, as reflected in his observations of the dance hall chandelier. Made of glass like his sister's tiny animals, this large magnetic piece of glass reflects life outside, with contemporary music and people dancing, whereas the glass menagerie represents his sister's isolated, fragile world inside, with her old music and her inability to dance.

Amanda reveals herself in this scene, speaking honestly to Tom, as honestly as she sees life around her, that is. She wants her children to live secure, happy lives, but she cannot comprehend anything but her own vision of happiness—what she was denied by economic misfortune and by marrying the wrong man. Her limited understanding may be interpreted as selfishness, as someone who is so wrapped up in her own ideas and past and therefore cannot comprehend that someone else might not be, especially her own children who are so different from her.

In her concern for Laura's welfare and refusing to be truthful about Laura's malformed leg (more for Amanda's benefit than Laura's), Amanda allows her daughter to be embarrassed by it, to view herself—internally as well as externally—as defective. Because Amanda is ashamed of her daughter's deformity, she chooses to ignore it. If she truly cared about her daughter more than her own limitations allow her, she might have shown her how to accept it.

One then may wonder how much Amanda is responsible for her husband's falling "in love with long distance" and leaving his family to her direction. Her lack of objective vision keeps her in the past, thinking what she could have had if she had chosen better. If such choices could be offered to Laura, Amanda, of course, would make them, for Laura is incapable of making choices at all, even what to wish for when she sees the moon outside. And so Amanda keeps returning to Blue Mountain and her life as a pampered Southern belle, having nothing else to sustain her. Her lack of vision also prevents her from seeing Laura as others see her, as Tom tries to explain. If Amanda can see her daughter's lame leg and refuse to acknowledge it, she surely cannot see her mental state; therefore, there is nothing to acknowledge. Furthermore, neither Tom nor Amanda mentions the gentleman caller or his name to Laura beforehand. Seeing Laura as shy and fragile are positive spins they try to put on, and once again, Amanda is deluded by her pathetic optimism.

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