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The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Scene 7

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Scene 7 of Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie | Scene 7 | Summary



The rain ends, and the apartment lights go out. Jim checks the fuses at Amanda's request and finds out they are working fine. Amanda now knows Tom has not paid the electricity bill. Angry at her son's irresponsibility, she calls him "negligent" and ignores Jim's attempt to lighten the tense moment with the joke that Tom, whom he calls Shakespeare, "probably wrote a poem on that light bill." Amanda hands Jim a candelabrum for light and a glass of wine for Laura and sends him into the living room while she and Tom clean up.

Laura demonstrates her usual shyness until Jim's outgoing personality and warmth break though. Although the encounter is insignificant to Jim, for Laura it is the "climax of her secret life." They chat about the fortune made by the inventor of chewing gum and about high school, when Laura says she knew him. She reminds him that he nicknamed her Blue Roses when he misheard her saying she had missed school because of pleurosis. She adds she loved his voice and saw him in The Pirates of Penzance, all three performances, because she wanted him to sign her program. He grins, signs it after she hands it to him, and asks her about her school days. She admits she didn't graduate secondary school, nor did she finish the business college/secretarial school.

Jim enthuses about how she needs to develop confidence by finding something she does well and building on it. He thinks she should appreciate her uniqueness in a world where most everyone seems cut from the same mold. Laura shows him her glass collection and explains that the unicorn is her favorite because he is different from the horses but gets along well with them. Jim notes that unicorns are extinct. When Laura and Jim hear music from the dance hall across the alley, Jim convinces her to dance and dismisses her worries about stepping on him when he says, "I'm not made out of glass." As they dance, they bump into the table and knock the unicorn to the floor, breaking its horn. She overlooks the accident saying, "Now he will feel more at home with the other animals." He responds by telling her she is pretty and he appreciates her individuality. He reminds her she is "Blue Roses," which makes her a welcome exception compared to the ordinariness of others.

He surprisingly but tenderly kisses her and then quickly apologizes, explaining to her and Amanda, who has entered with a tray of lemonade, that he must leave because he is engaged to Betty, whom he has to meet later that evening, and will marry her in June. He does go, and on his way out Laura gives him the now hornless unicorn. Amanda, in controlled rage, is horrified and furious with Tom, accusing him of playing a mean joke and not caring about the time and expense she spent on the dinner party. Tom realizes the full hopelessness of the situation and turns to leave, as she says, "Then go to the moon—you selfish dreamer." And Tom does leave while Amanda sits on the sofa with Laura, soothing her disillusioned, yet not angry, daughter.

As narrator, Tom speaks from the fire escape relating the rest of the story. He was fired from the warehouse and left St. Louis to travel. However, he has never been able to distance himself from Laura, of whom he is reminded by bits of glass or music. He tells her to blow out the candles, which she does in the apartment.


After Laura's panic because of Jim's presence, if Amanda still entertained fragments of hope that her plan to find her daughter a husband would come true, they faded along with the lights. When Jim tells her that the fuses are not defective, she turns her anger toward her son. In front of Jim, she berates Tom by saying, "I might have known better than to trust him with the bill! There's such a high price to pay for negligence in this world." He avoids confrontation; despite Amanda's constant berating of his behavior, she is the one who has shown bad manners and a lack of decorum by criticizing him publicly. She gives Jim a candelabrum to figuratively light his way to Laura because he cannot know what to expect from the woman who fainted at his presence and literally because the apartment is in darkness.

With the same easy-going spirit that made him so popular in high school, he breaks through Laura's wall of introversion, and soon they are discussing high school days. However, unlike Amanda's memories, these are not meant to shield them from reality. Rather, they are stepping stones of shared experiences that lead from the past to the present and offer them shared topics to explore. Although she has no experience talking with men, Laura pads Jim's ego with compliments about his singing and his popularity. He even signs the program from The Pirates of Penzance, which she has kept all this time, having been too shy to ask him six years ago. For her this behavior is not a ploy flirtatious people use to win over a person who attracts them, but simply the truth. Laura has no artifice. Part of her appeal is her honesty. Jim does not have to translate her words for false meanings, nor does he have to adopt a role she might want him to play as some might expect. Because of her honesty, he feels honest as well and can speak openly about her leg, which he sees as a slight limp, not the detriment she believes it to be. His openness gives her the courage to tell him of the shyness and lack of confidence that kept her from finishing high school and business college. Because Amanda has always closed her eyes to distasteful truths, and still believes her daughter's leg is one of the most unpleasant realities to bear, Laura has grown up feeling she is as defective as her mother still thinks her leg is. To show her how ridiculous that thought is he asks Laura to dance and tells her to build her confidence by grabbing onto one "superior quality" as her foundation.

Not only does Laura trust him enough to show him her glass menagerie but she can talk about the animals as if they were real and had separate personalities. She has no fear he will laugh at her or act dismissively as her mother and brother do. When Jim understands why she equates the unicorn's horn with her leg, she is touched. Because of Jim, for the first time in her life, for these few minutes, Laura feels her uniqueness is not undesirable. Jim finds her individuality as rare and inviting as actual blue roses (which do not exist). Even his admission about his fiancée, Betty, does not totally break her as it might have. It merely places her where she was before: disillusioned; however, it is not clear that she ever had illusions, unlike her mother. She knows he will never return, but before he leaves, she gives him her once-peerless unicorn, now a common horse to her, too, because she accepts her own singularity and her "defect."

After his fight with Amanda, Tom storms out of the apartment, sick of shouldering blame and responsibility for the sad outcomes in their life. He understands Amanda will never be an independent woman but as in the past will always feel the need of a man to save her. If Laura had Jim's faith in the future and self-confidence, or the will to grab onto the one superior quality, she might gain strength. But from Tom's soliloquy and the final scene between Laura and Amanda, the audience knows she will remain where she is.

If the moments of conversation with Jim are Laura's climactic moments, Tom's final rage at Amanda and subsequent departure are his, as he follows his father's footsteps. Amanda's moment is that with Tom gone, his salary a memory, and Laura's marriage prospects nonexistent, she is going to have to find some way to keep her daughter and herself financially afloat. With Jim's exit, Laura must also give up hope. Her smile when she blows out the candle shows her acceptance of her future.

From the fire escape, at the same time he pleads with her to "Blow your candles out," Laura smiles and blows out the candelabrum flames, thereby freeing her brother from his responsibility to her and their mother. She forgives him because she understands why he left. Jim helped her to see that that people's futures rest in their confidence in themselves, and their strength to take the chance on the challenge that comes with change. When Amanda leaves the sofa and stops by to glance at her husband's picture before she goes to her room, Laura's smile suggests she understands she will never have the courage to leave. Blowing out the candles is her disillusioned acceptance of a future that mirrors her existing life.

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