Laura is polishing her glass animals. When she hears her mother approaching, she pushes the bowl of glass animals aside and places her diagram of a typewriter keyboard in front of her. Appearing grim and hopeless, Amanda enters. Seeing her expression, Laura asks why she is upset. Amanda explains she didn't go to her D.A.R. meeting. (Daughters of the American Revolution was, and still is, an organization of women who trace their American lineage to the Revolutionary War; in the 1930s the D.A.R. was considered snobbish and exclusive by others.) Instead, she stopped by the Rubicam Business College to check on Laura's progress only to learn Laura dropped out a few days after she had begun. The typing instructor explained that Laura was so fearful of the typing test she became sick and left, never to return. Amanda accuses Laura of deceit and demands to know how she has spent her days. Laura tells her mother she has been walking, visiting museums, the aviaries, the zoo, and occasionally the movies. Laura explains the prospect of a timed typing test terrified her so much she vomited on the floor and was too ashamed to go back.
Amanda fears they will end up living from the charity of relatives, as she is seeing that Laura is unfit to work. When Amanda brings up marriage, Laura admits she had a crush in high school on a popular and accomplished boy who nicknamed her Blue Roses, a mis-hearing of pleurosis, a circulatory disease which kept her out of school. Regaining her strength following her discovery of Laura's deception, Amanda states that the only solution left is for Laura to marry, like other young women with no job skills. Amanda dismisses Laura's lameness, telling Laura not to speak of it and to cultivate "charm."
With exaggerated body language, melodramatic airs, and suggestions of martyrdom, Amanda scoffs at her daughter's explanation of her days and shows annoyance—not concern—at Laura's spending so much time walking in the frigid winter weather. Amanda is an expert at making her children feel guilt: Laura mentions the "Awful, suffering look, like the picture of Jesus' mother in the museum," as Laura explains why she did not tell her mother about leaving business college (which is not a university but rather a small for-profit secretarial school that taught typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, and other subjects useful for office work). Amanda's realization of Laura's inability to work sets marriage plans in action, and she continues to reject Laura's comment in Scene 1 about her lack of popularity with young men. Her dismissiveness at Laura's admission to liking a boy when she was in high school mocks her daughter's pleasant memory. In fact, her behavior is a dramatic downscaling to her own stories about her gentlemen callers. Amanda may be pathetic in herself and in her situation, but she is not purposely cruel; rather she has no comprehension of Laura or her needs. If Amanda lives in her past glories, Laura remembers a few short moments when someone she was too afraid to approach paid brief attention and treated her kindly. Her mother might wish to encourage her but really cannot.
In addition to living in the past, the theme of abandonment surfaces in this scene. Amanda may be seen to suffer from some of the metaphoric blindness that Tom refers to at the beginning of the play, for she is oblivious whenever her son or daughter balks at her demands and her visions. Although her fears for their future inhibit her from admitting to Tom that she hears the subtext of his angry words, she does in fact understand he wants to leave to follow his own ambitions. She fears Tom's departure as a sequel to her husband's abandonment, a never-ending anxiety. Despite her annoying ways, she has been abandoned not only by her husband but also by her dreams and way of life. Given the economic difficulties of the times and her privileged upbringing, she is as frightened and crippled internally as her daughter is externally.
Pathetically optimistic and, as Williams describes her, courageous, Amanda plows ahead with hope as her guiding force, but it is a hope that even she realizes is tenuous at best. Laura continually cleans and polishes her figurines in her realization that the world presents too many emotional hurdles for her and that any self-confidence she might have is fragile.
Scene 1 Summary
Tom appears, dressed in the uniform of the merchant marines. He introduces the play, which he describes as a memory play and therefore dimly lit, sentimental, and unrealistic. He also introduces the characters - himself, his mother Amanda, his sister Laura, and a Gentleman Caller. He explains that the Gentleman Caller is a symbol of the "long delayed but always expected something that we long for." Tom goes on to say that there is a fifth character in the play who never actually appears - his father, who disappeared when he and Laura were children but whose picture is prominently displayed.
Amanda calls Tom to sit down for dinner. He disappears but soon reappears, no longer in his merchant marine clothes, at the table with Laura and Amanda. As he eats, Amanda criticizes his table manners. Tom says he can't enjoy his meal...
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