Summary of Scene 2 of The Glass Menagerie
As Scene 2 begins the stage is dark, and an image of blue roses appears on the screen. Music plays. Then a light shines on Laura, the blue roses disappear, and the music stops. (Williams calls this scene "Laura, Haven't You Ever Liked Some Boy?")
The stage directions say that Laura "is seated in the delicate ivory chair…" wearing "a dress of soft violet material…" (Williams uses the words "delicate" and "soft") to describe the scene and also to show that Laura is delicate (easily broken) and soft. He also uses the calm colors of blue and violet to show that Laura is quiet - not dramatic like her mother.)
Laura is washing polishing her collection of glass animals. They are symbols of pretty but easily broken things. They are symbols for Laura who also is pretty but easily broken.
Laura hears Amana coming up the steps of the fire escape. Laura pushes her glass animals away, sits in front of the typewriter, and pretends to be studying a diagram of a typewriter keyboard.
The playwright writes, "Something has happened to Amanda." Williams writes that Amanda looks unhappy and hopeless. She is dressed in her best, but old, clothes that she usually wears to D.A.R. meetings. (D.A.R. meetings are meetings of the Daughters of the American Revolution - groups of women who teach others about their ancestors and others who had fought in the Revolutionary War that led to the creation of the United States and its separation from England.)
Clearly, Williams wants the audience to see that Amanda is fake; she is trying to look like the rich lady she had been when she was young, but she doesn't have the money to do it. Williams also shows how Amanda likes to be dramatic. The stage directions say, "Before entering she looks through the door. She purses her lips, opens her eyes very wide, rolls them upward, and shakes her head. Then she slowly lets herself in the door."
As Amanda enters, Laura says nervously, "Hello, mother, I was -" Laura stops talking and looks at the typewriter chart.
Amanda looks at her daughter and angrily asks, "Deception? Deception?"
Note: The word "deception" means to say something that is untrue or to act in a way that makes someone believe something that is not true. Amanda is asking why Laura has tricked her, misled her. Amanda's use of this word reminds the audience that Tom, at the beginning of Scene One, had spoken of illusion. A deception is a trick or illusion. People trick themselves and others, so they hide from reality - so they can hide from truths that they don't like.
Note: In his notes, the playwright says Amanda looks like she is suffering. The playwright says she acts out her anger by slowly taking off her hat and gloves and letting them fall to the floor.
Amanda takes a handkerchief out of her purse and touches it to her lips and nose. Laura, seeing that her mother is unhappy, asks if her mother had gone as planned to a D.A.R. meeting. Amanda weakly says, "No." Then she strongly says, "No!" She sasy she didn't have the strength or the courage to go to her meeting. She says she had wanted to hide in a hole forever. (She was so embarrassed that she did not want anyone to see her.)
The stage directions say that Amanda takes the typewriting chart off the wall. Amanda looks sadly at the chart and tears it into two pieces. Laura asks weakly, "Why did you do that, Mother?" The stage directions say that Amanda then takes the shorthand chart off the wall, tears it into two pieces, and Laura again asks why.
Amanda repeats Laura's question, "Why? Why?" Then Amanda asks Laura how old she is and Laura says her mother knows how old she is. (She is 23.) Amanda says she thought Laura was an adult, but she was mistaken.
Amanda sits down and stares at (looks at) Laura. Laura asks her to stop staring.
Amanda closes her eyes and finally asks her daughter, "What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?"
Laura asks her mother if something has happened.
Amanda says she will be okay, but she is "bewildered [confused] by life."
Laura keeps asking her mother to tell her what has happened. Finally, her mother begins to explain. She says that she was supposed to be inducted into office at the meeting. (She means that she was supposed to be honored by being chosen as a leader of her Daughters of the American Revolution group.
The stage directions say that "a swarm of typewriters" appears on the screen on the wall. (The typewriters symbolize reality swarming or attacking both Amanda and Laura. The reality is that Amanda cannot make her daughter successful and Laura finds interacting with people very difficult.)
Finally, Laura's mother explains that she did not go to her meeting because she stopped by Rubicam’s Business College where Laura said she had been going to class. Amanda had wanted to let someone at the school know that Laura had a cold, and Amanda had wanted to ask how Laura was doing in class.
Amanda says a typing teacher at the business college told her that Laura only had come to class a few days. The teacher showed Amanda the attendance records and said Laura had been "terribly shy" (nervous and frightened), had become sick to her stomach when taking test, and had never come back. The school had called to ask if Laura was dropping out, but no one answered the phone. Amanda tells Laura the school's phone calls must have come when Amanda had been working at Famous and Barr (a department store in St. Louis).
Amanda says she had been so weak (so unhappily surprised) that she had had to sit down and had been given a drink of water.
Amanda says $50 (the cost of going to the school) and all of her "hopes and ambitions' for her daughter had 'gone up the spout" (had quickly gone away).
Laura breathes in, gets up, and walks over to the Victrola (the music player) and winds it up. When her mother asks her what she is doing. Laura says, "Oh!" and goes back to her chair.
Laura says that it is true that she has not been going to class. She says that instead of going to class, she has been walking along the winter streets. Sometimes, she went to the art museum to get warm. Sometimes, she went to the zoo to see birds and penguins. Sometimes she went to the movies, and sometimes she went to a "big glass-house where they raise the tropical flowers."
Note: Amanda has been trying to trick people into thinking she is still a rich lady and Laura has been trying to trick people into thinking she is a good student who has been learning to type in order to get a job. Neither of them accept reality, and both are trying to escape it. Neither of them truly acts like an adult, so it is ironic (the opposite of what is expected) that Amanda is unhappy that her daughter does not act like an adult. It is also ironic that Amanda says she thought her daughter was an adult. If Amanda truly believed her daughter was an adult, she would not have gone to the school to check on Laura's progress. Williams adds to his characterization of Laura by having her go to a greenhouse. Williams is showing that Laura is like a delicate (easily damaged) flower in a greenhouse. Laura needs a lot of help to survive.)
Amanda says, "You did all this to deceive me, just for deception? Why?" (Amanda wants to know why Laura has been pretending to go to school. Amanda cannot understand her daughter. Amanda cannot understand that Laura cannot accept reality. Laura pretended to go to school because she could not explain to her mother that she could not interact with people because of her shyness. Laura is afraid of her mother, afraid of what other people think about her, and afraid of life.)
Laura says, "Mother, when you're disappointed, you get that awful suffering look on your face, like the picture of Jesus' mother in the museum!" (Comparing Amanda's suffering to the suffering of Jesus' mother shows how Amanda makes even small problems big with her dramatic behavior. The comparison shows how hard it is for shy Laura to make her mother happy. It is interesting that Mary (Jesus' mother) suffered because her son was killed because he said he was the son of God while Amanda is suffering because she expects Laura to be someone whom she is not. Laura is not brave.)
Laura directly tells her mother, "I couldn't face it." (She could not make herself go to school, be tested, and be found to be a bad student.)
Very soft music plays, and the words "The Crust of Humility" are shown on the screen on the wall. (The audience should be starting to realize that the screen, often with music, shows Tom's strongest thoughts and memories about his mother, sister, and life. The words "The Crust of Humility" show that women who have no supportive husbands, like Laura and Amanda, have to eat the crusts of bread (which are symbols of humility or inferiority) while the other women can eat whole slices of bread (which are symbols of pride and success).
Amanda tells Laura that she cannot just play with her glass menagerie and play "those worn-out phonograph records your father left as a painful reminder of him." (Laura's playing of the records symbolizes her inability to move forward after her father left her.) Amanda tells Laura that since she isn't training to get a job, the only alternative is for Laura to get married.
Amanda asks Laura if she has ever liked a boy. Laura says yes and that she had seen his picture a while ago when she was looking at her high school yearbook. (A picture of a high school boy, whom Williams calls a "hero" (because he was popular, performed in theater productions, and was on the debate team) appears on the screen on the wall. The boy is holding a silver trophy cup.)
Laura tells Amanda that the boy's name was Jim, and he had sat near her in the chorus. Laura tells her mother that once she told Jim that she had been away from school because she had been sick with pleurosis (a painful inflammation of the lungs). Because he did not hear the name of the disease clearly, Jim began calling her “Blue Roses.” Laura says that when Jim graduated from high school, he was engaged, and she thinks that he must be married now because six years have passed. Amanda says that Laura can get married to someone nice, too. Laura tells her mother that she is “crippled”—that one of her legs is shorter than the other. (Laura does not think anyone would marry a cripple like her.) Amanda tells Laura to never use the word "cripple" and tells her that she must learn to be charming (to be able to make people happy). Scene Two ends with Amanda looking at the picture of her husband and saying, "That's all you have to do! One thing your father had plenty of—was charm!"(Amanda is saying that people only need to be charming to get a husband or a wife. Her husband had not been rich or smart, but he had been charming.)
At the end of scene, then, both mother and daughter are thinking about the past to try to find a way to accept the future. Laura is remembering Jim, a high school boy she liked, and Amanda is remembering her husband. The end of the scene is full of memories. Williams ends the scene with the memory of Jim in a high school picture and with Amanda remembering Laura's father in the picture in the living room. Although the images are not on the memory screen on the wall, the pictures of Laura's friend and Amanda's husband show the power of memories. Williams has music play as the scene ends, reflecting memories and dreams. The memories are of what once happened and the dreams are of finding happiness and a safe and good future.