In this scene we see the underlying tension in the Wingfield household rise to the surface as the family sits at dinner. Amanda almost immediately reprimands Tom for his lack of table manners and Tom responds with extreme irritation, abruptly leaving the table. This is the first instance of many in which Amanda and Tom are seen to be at war with one another.
A second cause of tension arises when Amanda brightly tells Laura not to bother with the dishes, as she has to ‘stay fresh and pretty’ in case any young man comes to call on her. Laura points out that she’s not expecting any, but Amanda completely disregards this and goes on to blithely recall how she used to receive callers in her youth:
One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain your mother received – seventeen! gentleman callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t enough chairs to accommodate them all. (scene 1)
This long-ago social triumph, when she was absolutely swamped with suitors, evidently remains engraved on Amanda’s memory, but she completely ignores the fact that her daughter Laura, by contrast, doesn’t expect or want any gentleman callers.
This scene introduces the two main causes of conflict in the Wingfield family. Amanda is at odds with both her son and daughter. She continually nags at Tom to better himself and improve his prospects, and also to find a suitable husband for Laura. She also tries to push the unwilling Laura into becoming the kind of bright, popular girl that she was herself.
Amanda is not solely responsible for creating the tensions within the family, but in this first scene, and generally throughout the play, she is the one who causes these tensions to flare up. She is always trying to foist her ideas and plans onto her children without really stopping to listen to what they want.