The words “After the fiasco” appear on the screen. Tom stands on the fire escape and tells the audience that after the “fiasco” at the business college, Amanda has become obsessed with the idea that a gentleman caller must come to the house for Laura, and an image of a young man carrying flowers appears on the screen. Tom says that to raise extra money, Amanda has taken up a telephone campaign to sell subscriptions for The Homemaker’s Companion, a ladies’ magazine.
Tom’s narration from the fire escape represents both his desire for escape and his inability to leave: he is both in the scene and out of it, bound to the action but yearning to withdraw. Amanda sees in Laura a vision of her own youth rather than who Laura truly is.
Amanda enters with a telephone and elaborately, over-enthusiastically praises the magazine, describing one of the stories in the journal as the next Gone With the Wind. The customer hangs up, and the lights dim.
Amanda over-eagerly promotes a conventional style of femininity. She sees herself as a heroine of a novel such as Gone With the Wind, but her reality does not match her perception. And others perceive her desperation.
Tom and Amanda are heard arguing behind curtains hanging over a door. Laura is standing in front of them, and throughout Tom and Amanda’s entire argument, the light is on Laura. Tom is furious about his lack of privacy, enraged that his mother has returned his D.H. Lawrence book, which she calls “hideous,” to the library.
Tom feels trapped in every aspect of his life: his mother dictates not only his work but his mind, censoring his books and chastising him for attempting to escape. Laura does not speak, yet she is always at the center of the family.
Tom rips the curtains over the dining room door open, and he and Amanda continue to fight as Laura watches helplessly. The typewriter and Tom’s manuscripts are scattered across the dining room. Tom attempts to leave the apartment, but Amanda insists that he stay and hear her out. They argue about his nightly excursions, and she accuses him of doing something shameful under the guise of going to the movies, claiming that he will jeopardize his job.
To Laura, the typewriter represented the business college that she had to escape from, but for Tom the typewriter gives him a way to escape, through writing. Tom constantly seeks alternate narratives for himself: a version of himself as a writer, a version of himself he writes about, and the action-adventure star of the screen.
Tom explodes at Amanda, claiming that he’d rather be bludgeoned to death with a crowbar than go back to the warehouse every morning. He points to the father’s picture on the wall and says that were he as selfish as Amanda claims he is, he would have abandoned the family long ago.
Tom is tempted to follow in his father’s footsteps and abandon his family, but he is equally haunted by guilt and remorse at the thought of doing so.
When Amanda declares again that she doesn’t believe Tom is going to the movies, Tom sarcastically tells her she’s right and claims that he is, indeed, leading a double life: going to an opium den, frequenting casinos, joining a gang of hired assassins. Tom calls Amanda an “ugly––babbling old––witch.” He tries to wrench on his overcoat, finds himself trapped in it, jerkily pulls it off, and throws it across the room, where it smashes into the shelf holding the glass menagerie and breaks several of the animals.
When Tom invents the story of his double life, piling on increasingly ludicrous details, his hysteria and wild desire to escape become so violent that he shatters the glass menagerie, which symbolizes the fragile balance of the Wingfield family dynamic. Tom’s breaking of the glass animals suggests that the wounds inflicted through this argument have caused a rupture with permanent repercussions. His desire to escape breaks Laura's means of escape—though he wishes they weren't, the two are at odds.
Music begins to play. Laura shrieks, “My glass!––menagerie...” Amanda, stunned, declares that she will not speak to Tom until he apologizes. Tom awkwardly kneels to collect the broken glass and glances at Laura as if to say something but does not.
Laura, who is still standing at the center of the argument between Tom and Amanda, shrieks but can only repeat, in broken tones, what Tom has just shattered.