Summary of Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie
As the scene opens, the words “After the fiasco” appear on the screen. (A "fiasco" is a complete failure.) Tom stands on the fire escape landing and talks to the audience. (The fact that he stands by the fire escape is important. Once again he is acting as the narrator, not as a character in the play. This reminds the audience that the events in the play occurred in the past. In the present, Tom is a playwright who has escaped from his difficult family. He has not completely escaped because he has strong memories, strong enough that he wrote a play about them.) He says that after the “fiasco” (meaning the complete failure of Laura's business college attendance), Amanda thinks only about getting a gentleman caller, a husband, for Laura.
The image of a young man at the house with flowers appears on the screen.
Tom continues to speak as the narrator, explaining that after Amanda discovered that Laura was not trying to prepare for a career, Amanda talked almost every evening about a gentleman caller: "this image, this specter, this hope." (Amanda is trying so hard to get a gentleman caller for Laura that the idea of a caller is always in everyone's mind. The image of the caller is like a ghost, but also gives hope for a better future.) Tom continues to speak about the possible gentleman caller and says, "Even when he wasn't mentioned, his presence hung in Mother's preoccupied look and in my sister's frightened, apologetic manner - hung like a sentence passed upon the Wingfields!" (Just as Tom's position by the fire escape shows his need to escape his family, so do his words that his mother's obsession (extreme desire) for a gentleman caller made it seem like all of them had been sentenced to prison.)
Then Tom says that in order to make a little extra money to increase the family’s ability to entertain gentlemen, Amanda now runs a telephone subscription campaign for a magazine called The Homemaker’s Companion. The cover of a glamour magazine appears on the screen, and Amanda enters with a telephone.
Amanda is talking on the phone to Ida Scott, a member of the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution organization). She asks about Ida's health. Ida is having problems with her sinuses, and Amanda says, "You're a Christian martyr, yes, that's what you are, a Christian martyr!" (This might remind audiences that in Scene Two Laura had compared her mother's suffering expression to the picture of Mary's suffering over Jesus' death. A "Christian martyr" is a person who is tortured and killed because of his Christian faith. Williams' references to Christianity seem to show his belief that religion cannot provide escape in times of desperation. Jesus died and left behind a suffering mother. Christian martyrs die and leave behind suffering family members. Amanda shows how dramatic she can be by comparing Ida Scott who is not feeling well to someone dying for her faith.) After talking about Ida's health, Amanda tries to get her to renew her subscription to The Homemaker’s Companion magazine. She says the magazine has a story coming out in sections. Amanda says the story is good—like Gone with the Wind (a famous book that includes descriptions of the wonderful parts of the past of the South. (This shows that Amanda likes books about fantasies and romance.) Ida says something is burning in her oven and hangs up. The lights dim. The question "You think I'm in love with Continental Shoemakers?" appears on the screen. After this projected thought, Tom stops being a narrator and becomes a character in the play again.
The audience hears Tom and Amanda arguing loudly while Laura desperately watches. (A light shines on her, so the audience can see how upset she is.) Tom is very angry because he says he has nothing that he can call his own. His mother has returned the D. H. Lawrence novel he was reading to the library. (D. H. Lawrence was an English writer whose novels were famous for their open descriptions of sex. By taking away the book, Amanda takes away Tom's ability to mentally escape from the apartment and reality. She doesn't see that it is not right for her to read literature to escape reality when she is stopping her son from having the same freedom.) Amanda says that she will not permit that kind of “filth” in her house. (Stage directions explain that Amanda is wearing an old robe that had belonged to her husband. There is a typewriter and many pages of typing on the table. These show that Amanda still has not escaped from the situation caused by her husband's abandonment, but Tom has been trying to escape his job at the shoe factory by doing creative writing.) Tom points out that he pays the rent (so he should be able to keep what he wants in the apartment) and tries to end the conversation by leaving the apartment. Amanda insists that Tom listen to her. She says he's angry because he has been doing things he's ashamed of even though he says that he is only spending his nights at the movies. Amanda says that by coming home late and not getting enough sleep, Tom is endangering his job and, therefore, the family’s security.
Tom defends himself by saying, "You think I'm in love with the Continental Shoemakers? You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there?" Tom says whenever he hears Amanda’s daily call of "Rise and Shine," [her call for him to wake up and get ready to go to work] he says to himself, "How lucky dead people are!" Tom adds, "But I get up. I go! For sixty-five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever!" He says if he truly were as selfish as Amanda says, he would have left long ago, just like his father.
Tom makes a move toward the door. Amanda demands to know where he is going. When she does not accept his response that he is going to the movies, he declares sarcastically that she is right and that he spends his nights with criminals at opium houses and casinos. He says she must believe that people call him "Killer, Killer Wingfield," and that he is "leading a double-life, a simple, honest warehouse worker by day, by night a dynamic tsar of the underworld…" (He does none of those things; he is trying to show Amanda how unreasonable her idea is that he is ashamed of something.) He concludes his speech by saying, "My enemies plan to dynamite this place. They're going to blow us all sky-high some night ! I'll be glad, very happy, and so will you! You'll go up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentlemen callers! You ugly - babbling old - witch."
Tom grabs his coat, but his arm gets stuck in the sleeve, so he throws it to the other side of the room, where it hits Laura’s glass menagerie (her collection of glass animal figurines). Glass breaks, and Laura cries out and turns away. The words “The Glass Menagerie” appear on the screen. Barely noticing the broken menagerie, Amanda declares she will not speak to Tom until she receives an apology. Tom bends down to pick up the glass and looks at Laura as if he would like to say something, but he says nothing. The “Glass Menagerie” music plays and the lights dim as the scene ends.
(The end of Scene Three is a climax to the first part of the play because the argument between Amanda and Tom as well as the breaking of some of Laura's glass figures show that the family is breaking apart. There are several more climaxes in the play as each character's actions lead to an inescapable result.)
By the end of Scene Three, Williams has shown that Tom is not happy with his job or home life. It is clear that Amanda misses her happy youth and is worried about her family's future. The scene also shows that Laura feels helpless because of her bad leg and shyness. The family's memories of Mr. Wingfield are constantly in everyone's mind. The photograph reminds Tom that he has been forced to support the family because his father left. Tom is upset by the idea that he is like his father. He worries that he might leave and destroy the family, so he can try to make his own dreams come true. By the end of the scene, Tom has emotionally destroyed Amanda and Laura. He has made it clear that Amanda is not young and beautiful; she is an ugly witch. He has hurt Laura by destroying her escape from reality; he has broken her glass menagerie.
The events in The Glass Menagerie are similar to the author's own life. Tennessee Williams' real name was Thomas, similar to the name of his character Tom. Williams spent a number of difficult years in St. Louis with his family, and for some of that time, he worked in a shoe factory. As a child, he was very close to his older sister, Rose, who, like Laura, was delicate and escaped reality by living in fantasy. Rose, like Laura, had a menagerie (a collection of animals) made of glass. As an adult, Rose was diagnosed with schizophrenia and eventually had a lobotomy (a removal of a section of a brain) in 1937. Williams never forgave his mother, a controlling former Southern belle like Amanda, for allowing the operation. The use of “Blue Roses” as a nickname and symbol for Laura in her happiest moments (which quickly turn painful) is Williams' way of honoring his sister—Rose Williams.