It is spring, 1937. Amanda nags Tom about his appearance and his smoking. Tom steps onto the fire escape with his cigarette and reminisces about the Paradise Dance Hall across the street from the tenements, remembering the rainbow-colored lights and the young couples.
The rainbow lights at the Paradise Dance Hall recall the rainbow light refracted through the fragile glass menagerie. Paradise for the dancing young couples will not last forever, as another world war looms on the horizon, just as the menagerie offers only a fragile escape.
Amanda joins Tom on the fire escape, and they look at the moon together. They each make a wish on the moon. Tom doesn’t tell Amanda what he wished for, and Amanda tells him that she wished, as she always does, for the success and happiness of her children.
Both Amanda and Tom dream of escape from their current lives, but while Tom wants to flee the apartment and his family, wants something for himself, Amanda projects her dreams and delusions through her children.
Tom reveals that a gentleman caller will be coming to dinner: he has invited a colleague from the warehouse to come to the apartment. A fanfare plays, and a gentleman caller with a bouquet appears on the screen. Amanda is delighted. Tom tells her that the gentlemen caller is coming tomorrow, which throws Amanda into a whirlwind. She chides Tom for not giving her enough time to prepare and immediately begins setting plans into motion.
As stage magician and narrator of the play, Tom makes Amanda’s wish seem to come true. The overly triumphant fanfare and screen image of the gentleman caller are tragicomic: although Amanda’s prayers appear to have been answered, the audience knows already that everything will not be resolved in Amanda’s version of a happy ending.
Amanda begins to whisk around the apartment, simultaneously re-organizing the apartment and brushing Tom’s hair while interrogating him about the gentlemen caller. Her first concern is that the gentleman caller must not be a drinker, as she does not want Laura married to a drinker, which Tom sees as a little premature.
Amanda spins the smallest idea of a gentleman caller into a grand fantasy of marriage for Laura. Her obsession that the gentleman caller not drink is a direct response to her own experience with a husband who drank and abandoned the family. Amanda is projecting both her own past and her dreams for the future onto Laura.
Amanda continues to pump Tom for information. She learns that the caller’s name is O’Connor, and he works as a shipping clerk in the warehouse. She grills Tom about Jim’s salary, his background, and his ambitions. Amanda is pleased to hear that Jim attends night school for radio engineering and public speaking.
Amanda sees in the gentleman caller a second chance for her own life through Laura. She assumes that Jim is a prospective husband for Laura and assesses him as she assessed her own gentleman callers when she was the belle of Blue Mountain.
Tom tells Amanda that he hasn’t told Jim about Laura: he just invited Jim over for a family dinner without any qualifications. Amanda is convinced that Jim will be smitten with Laura. When Tom tries to tame Amanda’s expectations, reminding her that Laura is shy, crippled, and different from other girls, Amanda brushes his doubts aside, refusing to hear that Laura is peculiar.
Tom tries to dispel Amanda’s fantasies, but she has surrounded herself so thoroughly in her view of the events that she refuses to hear his objections. Amanda convinces herself that Laura is the version of Laura that she projects onto her rather than accepting Laura as she is with all her peculiarities.
Tom leaves for the movies, and Amanda calls Laura to the front room. She points out the moon to Laura, turns her toward it, and commands her to make a wish. Laura asks what she should wish for, and Amanda answers, “Happiness! Good fortune!”
Amanda physically turns Laura toward the moon and puts her own wish into her daughter’s mouth, highlighting her desire to fulfill her own dreams and ambitions through her daughter, although these are not her daughter’s dreams.