On Saturday afternoon, Frank is distracted from trying to study French grammar by the voices of April and Jennifer. Jennifer tells April which things she wants to pack, including her large doll house. April tells her she can only bring the small things, but Jennifer doesn’t understand. April snaps that she doesn’t feel like explaining everything to someone who doesn’t listen. Half an hour later, Frank asks April where Jennifer is. They find her sucking her thumb in bed. April asks if Jennifer is worried about moving to France. Jennifer admits this, bursting into tears. April comforts her. Afterwards, Frank tells April that Jennifer’s reaction left him feeling shaken. April briskly responds that the kids will get over it, and unless he is suggesting they call the whole thing off, there is no point in discussing it. It is their first fight since Frank’s birthday, and both Frank and April feel tense for the rest of the day.
Although Frank allowed himself to be convinced to accept April’s plan to move, it has always been a prospect that scared him. Now, seeing Jennifer’s anxiety, he tries to leverage this to raise doubts about the plan. April rightly suspects Frank of using Jennifer as an excuse to stay in Connecticut and in their current life. While Frank may feel sympathy for Jennifer, he is first and foremost concerned with how the move will impact him. But April is not being honest about her motivations either. She is pretending that the move to Europe is meant to allow Frank to find himself, but it is really meant to allow her to get away from a life she loathes.
The next day is Sunday, the day of John Givings’s visit. Jennifer and Michael go to the Campbells’ house. April feels nervous, but Frank says he bets John is like all the other “uncertified insane people.” April praises him for being so generous and openminded.
Frank is trying to follow through on his rhetoric. He has always criticized the suburbs as a place where issues are covered up and everyone pretends to be happy. Now, he plans to show April – through his treatment of John – that this is how he really feels.
The Givingses arrive. John Givings is dressed in clothes from the asylum, and smokes intently. His frown makes him look exhausted by physical pain, and his smile looks unnatural. He walks around the house, saying it looks like a place where people live. April offers the Givingses sherry, and Helen begins to refuse, but John says that he would like it in a highball glass. Helen feels humiliated: she had brought John nice clothes to wear, but he insists on wearing clothes from the hospital. Howard is no help, and Helen tries to fill the time by chattering about the zoning board, watching as John wolfs down the sandwiches April prepared, leaving his sherry undrunk.
John bucks convention in every way he can. The Givingses and Wheelers are well-dressed, but John refuses to wear nice clothing or conform to society’s ideas about what he should look like. He wants his drink served in an unconventional way and eats without respect for table manners. All of this is seemingly done with a spitefulness towards conformity to social conventions, especially as he sees this conformity embodied in his mother.
John interrupts Helen and asks Frank if he is a lawyer. Frank tells John that he has an uninteresting job selling machines. John says he thought that only women and boys worried about whether a job is interesting. Mrs. Givings tries to interrupt to talk about the weather. John goes on, saying he knows he’s being tactless, as his mother would say, and that he understands that you must have a job to buy such a nice house. Annoyed, Frank says that he agrees with John, which is why he and April are leaving. John says he remembers now: his mother said they were moving to Europe, and that it’s very strange. He laughs loudly, and Mrs. Givings, no longer even trying to sound cheerful, pleads with him to stop.
John suggests that Frank’s emphasis on whether his job is boring is a sign that Frank lacks masculine maturity. Frank is immediately threatened and insulted by this assessment. He wants to show that he is also unconventional and goes against the grain, but is at the same time a stable, confident and strong man. When Frank brings up their impending move to Europe, John takes another swipe at his mother’s conventional instincts for how people should try to live their lives. There is no way for Helen to put a positive spin on her son’s mockery.
Frank, April, and John go outside for a walk. April lets Frank do most of the talking, but looks at him with admiration as he explains their plan to move to Europe to John. John approves of their plan, praising Frank for describing American life as a “hopeless emptiness.” Uncomfortable with John’s ecstatic praise, Frank changes the subject, asking about John’s work as a mathematician. John replies that he has had thirty-seven electrical shock treatments in the past two months and can no longer remember any math. April says this is awful, and John mocks her, asking if she thinks math is really “interesting.” April retorts that shock treatments sound awful, as does forgetting something you want to remember. She says she thinks math is probably boring. John tells Frank admiringly that April seems “female,” not “feminine” like Helen.
Frank explains why they want to move to Europe by making his usual speech about American life. This performance may be mainly for April’s benefit, or to convince himself that he really is the exceptional non-conformist he purports to be. But John’s enthusiasm goes too far for Frank. He is uncomfortable with the idea that John agrees with him. April, on the other hand, truly sympathizes with John. Instead of being embarrassed by his disclosure of his shock treatment, she speaks with honest sympathy about why his ordeal sounds awful. To John, this honesty is an act of non-conformity. Specifically, it shows that April is willing to go against society’s belief that women should always be cheerful and pleasant.
Watching John, Frank, and April through the window, Helen observes to Howard that they seem to be having a nice time. Howard suggests that she relax and let the others do the talking when they come back in. Helen does this, and she is pleased that the three young people reminisce about radio shows, like Don Winslow, that they listened to in their youth, although this is not the topic she had envisioned her son and the Wheelers discussing. When the Givingses depart, Helen says they had a very fun time. She expects John to mock her, but he is too busy bidding the Wheelers a friendly goodbye.
For once, Helen lets go of her anxious impulse to try to control everything and make it pleasant. Released from this pressure to be a certain way, John no longer focuses on angrily mocking his mother, but relaxes and enjoys reminiscing with his peers about radio shows they listened to when they were twelve or thirteen, a time when John, Frank, and April were all experiencing the complicated feelings about parents that accompany early adolescence.
After the Givingses are gone, April praises Frank for how he handled John, adding that John seemed nice and intelligent; she especially appreciated what he said about their being male and female. She says that he is the only person who seems to understand their plan to go to Europe. Frank feels drained, the odd exhilaration of the visit had distracted him from the tension he felt all week, but now that tension comes back. He can tell that April feels it too and that the way she is touching him and complimenting him is an attempt to cover up her true feelings.
Notably, Frank does not join April in her praise of John. He feels drained by trying to perform like an independent thinker and non-conformist, and a bit jealous that April seems to admire John’s original way of thinking. April senses this and also feels that the unity that emerged between her and Frank after they decided to move to Europe is slipping away.