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The Glass Menagerie | Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

Tom, as the narrator, provides background about Jim O'Connor, the gentleman caller. He explains that in high school where they were classmates, Jim was a clean-cut star with a memorable voice and formidable ambition—captain of this, president of that, lead performer in the school's light opera. Although expected to move on to much success, he currently works only as a clerk in the same warehouse as Tom, yet is still genial and charismatic in his circle of coworkers. Tom says coworkers treat him more respectfully because Jim does, but Tom is useful to Jim as well—as someone who remembers his glory days in high school. He calls Tom "Shakespeare" because Tom writes poetry when work is slow. While Tom knows Laura admired Jim during their high school years, he has no idea how strongly she felt about him, and Jim has no idea that Tom even has a sister.

The stage directions explain that Amanda has worked around the clock since Tom told her about the gentleman caller. She has accomplished all the tasks she set for herself to present themselves and their home as invitingly as possible in such a short time. When the scene begins, she is making final alterations on Laura's dress before she outfits herself and makes a grand entrance in the same now-yellowed gown she wore to a ball when she was a debutante at least 25 years ago. After digressing into one of her memories about those days filled with beaus and bouquets of jonquils she collected, she tells her daughter their guest is Jim O'Connor. The news makes Laura physically ill, as this is the young man she had such a crush on in high school. When she refuses to answer the door for Tom and Jim, Amanda mutters, "Why can't you and your brother be normal people?" and forces Laura to open the door.

After Laura obeys her mother, she rushes to the living room to play her music. The two young men read the paper and go to the fire escape to smoke while Amanda finishes preparing dinner. Jim tells Tom he is taking a public speaking course to help him become an executive in a company and tries to convince Tom to join the class. Tom scoffs at the idea and says, "I'm tired of the movies and am about to move!" He then shows Jim his Union of Merchant Seamen card and explains he paid his dues with the money for the electric bill, and he doesn't care if the lights are turned off because he'll be gone.

Amanda enters the room in the outdated, girlish dress, embarrassing her son and astonishing Jim with her Southern charm. At his mother's request, Tom checks on dinner, and Amanda calls Laura to the table. When she gets there, she is about to faint, so Tom helps her to the sofa where she can rest. At his mother's request, Tom says grace, and the dinner begins.

Analysis

Amanda has performed an admirable feat by turning the shabby living room into as bright and welcoming a place as possible. Unfortunately, the frayed threads of their family's conflicts are not so easily hidden by a veneer of socially acceptable behavior. Unable to accept her daughter for the person she is, Amanda puts powder puffs in Laura's bra and refuses to hear any complaints. She is like a woman possessed, as her dream—or the basic version of it—is unfolding before her, and she wants nothing to spoil it. She is queen of the moment as though she were reliving her past glories—meeting her husband and attracting such admiration. However, she does mention she was sick during much of the time, paralleling Laura's sickness at this event and Amanda's comment about why Laura has chosen this moment to "lose your mind." She shows the same displeasure with Tom's cowlick in Scene 5 when she criticizes his untidy hair, which prevents his being "pretty," as she says she'd like him to be, for others.

By not allowing the use of the words crippled and defect or any synonyms, she has exacerbated her daughter's feelings of inferiority by saturating them with negative connotations. Instead of helping Laura accept the situation, she has made this minor difference major in her daughter's mind. Amanda's reasons for pushing Laura to open the door when Tom and Jim arrive are understandable. She is merely trying to help her daughter realize she will overcome her fears when she learns how to face them, but Amanda's timing and sensibility are all wrong. She doesn't care that Laura had a major crush on Jim, the only crush she ever had, and that, combined with her shyness about her leg, the situation is too much for the young woman's already unstable nerves. In fact it is so much for Laura that she cannot leave the sofa.

Tom reveals his frustration with his job when he shrugs off Jim's warning that his sneaking away to write poems instead of working has caught their boss's attention and could get him fired. Immediately before showing Jim his Union of Merchant Seamen card, he says, "Whenever I pick up a shoe [at the warehouse], I shudder a little thinking how short life is and what I am doing!" He is shocked when his mother appears in a rather ridiculous gown that she wore as a young woman and is exasperated and embarrassed by her affected and exaggerated Southern-charm act.

Undone by the swirling emotions and expectations, Amanda exposes a side opposite of her usual brave facade that she has tried to bury under her false gaiety when rain begins to fall—fear. She senses that Tom, Laura, and she are standing on a crumbling cliff.

Ever since her husband left, Amanda has been caught between her nostalgic yearning and the reality of being a single mother. Her memories are not, necessarily, bastions of truth. The facts are distorted by time, choice, and selective recollections. For her, pain and sorrow are easier to accept when they are diluted by joyful and amusing thoughts. She even keeps a picture of the man who won her heart with his engaging smile and then abandoned her and two young children without any explanation, just a postcard from Mexico with the words, "Hello—Goodbye!" After her shock and sorrow faded into scar tissue, she had to have been furious—at him and at herself for falling for his charm. To protect her children from the truth of their life instead of the one she expected they would lead, she tried to impose order on what she could: her children. By her demands, expectations, and hiding unpleasantness—like her daughter's leg—they could avoid reality. Now, however, she sees Jim as the embodiment of future possibilities, the gentleman caller she so hoped would open her children's minds to potentials they never imagined. This truth shakes the foundation of the world she has created for them, and "She gives the gentleman caller a frightened look."

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