Last Reviewed on March 31, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1238
It is springtime, and Tom, Laura, and Amanda have just finished dinner. As Tom goes out to the landing to smoke, Amanda scolds him for spending money on cigarettes. From the landing on the fire escape, Tom addresses the audience directly, describing the music that floats out of the Paradise Dance Hall from across the alleyway. Tom mentions the changes in the world that are about to take place, explaining to the audience that “[a]ll the world was waiting for bombardments.” Amanda joins Tom on the landing, where Tom announces that he has invited a friend of his from the shoe warehouse to come to dinner tomorrow night. Amanda reacts excitedly at the prospect of Laura’s first “gentleman caller” and makes plans to polish the silver. Tom threatens to cancel the dinner if Amanda continues to “make such a fuss,” but his words do nothing to slow Amanda. Amanda, worried about Laura’s future with a potential alcoholic, asks Tom if his friend is a drinking man. Amanda brushes Tom’s hair while persisting in her interrogation, asking Tom about his friend’s salary. Amanda obsesses over the possibility that Tom’s friend, named Jim O’Connor, likes to drink, remembering how young women in her day would manage the issue of a young man’s drinking habit. She calls her marriage to Mr. Wingfield a “tragic mistake,” explaining that she was a victim of his charm and good looks. Tom reassures her; Jim is not particularly handsome, and he attends night school. Tom also mentions that he has not told Jim about Laura, and he warns Amanda not to “expect too much of Laura.” Amanda bristles at the suggestion that Laura is different from other young women. To Amanda’s disgust, Tom leaves the apartment to go to the movies, and Amanda calls for Laura to join her on the landing so that Laura “can make a wish on the moon.”
Tom addresses the audience directly, describing Jim O’Conner in detail. Tom knows Jim from high school. During that time, Jim was popular thanks to his friendly personality and wholesome appearance. Jim was an active student, and he was involved in many extracurricular clubs; he also held leadership roles like “captain of the debating club” and was a talented athlete and singer. Tom explains that he and the other students believed that Jim would “arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty.” Despite this promising adolescence, Jim is now working at the same shoe warehouse as Tom.
Tom goes on to describe their current friendship. The friendship works because Tom is someone who knows Jim as a high school hero. In addition, Jim is an open-minded and friendly colleague who is not suspicious of Tom’s impulse to write poetry when work is slow. Tom tells the audience that he remembers that Laura admired Jim’s singing when they were all high school students. He is sure that Laura will remember Jim, but he is less sure that Jim will remember Laura.
It is Friday evening. The apartment looks “astonishing” thanks to Amanda’s hard work, and Laura stands in the middle of the stage with her arms lifted as Amanda makes adjustments to her new dress. Laura’s hair looks different, and “[a] fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in Laura.” Laura’s nervousness irritates Amanda, and Laura’s anxiety intensifies when Amanda puts two powder puffs in the front of Laura’s dress to disguise her flat chest. Laura looks at her reflection in the mirror as Amanda gets dressed for dinner, promising to “make a spectacular appearance.”
Amanda appears wearing a dress from her youth and holding a bunch of jonquils. She tells Laura that she wore this dress on the day she met Laura and Tom’s father. That particular spring, Amanda had malaria, received countless invitations to parties all around “the Delta,” and obsessed over jonquils. After her speech, Amanda turns on a lamp and puts the flowers in a bowl. She mentions the name of Tom’s friend, and Laura’s expression changes as she remembers Jim.
Laura asks Amanda if she is sure of Tom’s friend’s name, and she tells Amanda that she and Tom both knew a young man of the same name in high school. She then says she won’t come to dinner after all, explaining to Amanda that Jim is the boy she liked in high school whose yearbook picture she pointed out. They argue about who will answer the door when the time comes. Amanda refuses to allow Laura to miss the dinner, and as Laura frets, Amanda goes into the kitchen.
Tom and Jim arrive, and when the doorbell sounds, Laura cannot move. Tom and Jim exchange pleasantries while standing on the landing; inside, Laura insists Amanda answer the door and ridicules Laura’s fear. As the two women argue in whispers, Tom rings the doorbell again. Laura winds the victrola, and after the music starts, she goes to open the door. Tom enters the apartment with Jim and introduces Laura to Jim, who comments that he did not know that Tom had a sister. Laura and Jim shake hands, and Jim notices that Laura’s hand is cold. She tries to explain that she has just been playing the victrola, and Jim recommends “a little hot swing music to warm you up!” Laura leaves the room abruptly. The two men share the newspaper, but Tom loses interest and lights a cigarette. As Jim talks to Tom about his study of public speaking, encouraging Tom to develop his own “social poise,” Amanda calls for Tom, suggesting he ask Jim if he wants to wash his hands. Jim declines, continuing his conversation with Tom, warning him that he will “be out of a job” if he does not change his attitude at work.
Tom announces to Jim that he is making a plan to change his life. He tells Jim that he is “tired of the movies,” which surprises Jim, and Tom rants about his belief that only a war enables “the masses” to have adventures. Jim asks Tom about his plans, and Tom admits that he is now a member of the Union of the Merchant Seamen; instead of paying the most recent electricity bill, Tom paid his dues. Jim asks how Tom’s mother feels about his plans, and Tom explains that she is not aware of his intentions to leave. Amanda enters, calling everyone to the dinner table, and her appearance and exuberance shock both Tom and Jim. Amanda attempts to charm Jim with talk about the weather and “Southern behavior,” and Tom interrupts her to ask her about dinner. As Tom leaves to find Laura, Amanda continues to converse with Jim. Tom announces that dinner is on the table and that Laura is not feeling well enough to join them. Amanda calls for Laura, pressuring her to join them as she arranges the two young men around the table. Laura obeys her mother and “moves unsteadily toward the table.” She stumbles and groans, and Amanda finally takes Laura’s complaints seriously. Laura rests on the sofa as it starts to rain. Amanda, Tom, and Jim sit down at the table; Tom begins to say grace as Laura tries not to cry from her position in the living room.
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