As a church bell tolls five times, Tom stumbles up the fire escape and into the apartment, visibly drunk. Movie ticket stubs and an empty bottle spill out of his pockets as he fumbles for his door key. Laura opens the door for Tom, and he tells her about the movies and about a magic show that he has been to, in which Malvolio the Magician turned water into wine, then to beer, and then to whisky. Tom gives Laura a rainbow-colored scarf, a souvenir from the show. He describes the “wonderfullest trick of all,” the coffin trick, in which a man is nailed into a coffin and escapes without removing a single nail––which, Tom remarks, would come in handy for him.
Tom continues to try to escape through the movies and through drink, but he is always pulled back his family and his job. The Shakespearean name Malvolio connects to Tom’s poetry, as Jim calls him “Shakespeare” in Scene Six. The rainbow-colored scarf is reminiscent of the rainbow-colored light refracted through Laura’s glass menagerie. The description of the coffin trick––an escape from a confined space without removing a single nail––perfectly symbolizes the predicament Tom perceives himself as being in, and his wish that he could escape it without harming anything—and Tom himself recognizes this symbolism. The coffin trick also symbolizes the Resurrection.
The bell tolls six times and Amanda calls out her customary “Rise and Shine!” She asks Laura to relay the message to Tom, as they are still not speaking. Laura begs Tom to apologize, but he remains unwilling. Amanda sends Laura to buy groceries on credit, and as Laura leaves, she slips on the fire escape.
The ominous bell and Amanda’s wake-up call bring Tom from his nightly fantasy of escape to the inevitable reality of the morning. Laura is the emotional mediator between Amanda and Tom––she tries to put out the flames they fan. When Laura goes to the fire escape, she slips, suggesting that she can never escape this world.
“Ave Maria” plays softly in the background as Tom finally apologizes to Amanda for his behavior. Amanda nearly breaks down as she speaks of the pride she has in her children. She makes Tom promise that he will never be a drunkard.
Laura exits the scene but remains at the emotional center, as she is the force that reconciles Tom and Amanda. Amanda sees Tom following the same path as her husband did, and she desperately wants to keep him within her conception of the family unit.
Amanda turns the discussion to Laura, and “The Glass Menagerie” theme begins to play. Amanda says that she has caught Laura crying because Laura believes Tom is unhappy and that he goes out every night to escape the apartment. Amanda tells Tom that she is afraid he will begin drinking like his father did.
Amanda and Tom are united in their love for Laura: she is the emotional core holding both the family and the play together. Tom’s love for Laura is what draws him back to the apartment. Some critics suggest that Tom has incestuous desires for Laura, which makes his reluctance to leave even more complicated.
When Amanda presses Tom to explain where he goes, Tom says that he goes to the movies for the adventure he lacks in his job. “Man is by instinct a love, a hunter, a fighter,” he says, which angers Amanda, who insists that Christian adults should not need to follow such animal instincts.
Amanda reproaches Tom for following his own desires rather than committing himself to the family’s needs. Although she accuses him of not being a good Christian adult, Tom ironically portrays himself as a martyr, sacrificing his own desires for the sake of his sister.
Amanda tells Tom that they have to make “plans and provisions” for Laura. She knows that he has received a letter from the merchant marines and that he is eager to go, and she tells him that he reminds her more and more of his and Laura’s father, who abandoned them suddenly and with no explanation. Amanda urges Tom to stay until Laura has someone to take care of her.
The looming figure of the father who abandoned the Wingfield family is a constant psychological force in all of their lives. Amanda can see Tom following in his father’s footsteps, but she does not want to enter into another cycle of abandonment.
Amanda asks Tom to bring home a gentleman from the warehouse to introduce to Laura, and as he leaves the apartment, Tom reluctantly agrees. Still troubled but faintly hopeful, Amanda makes another phone call for the glamour magazine subscription drive, calling the potential client a “Christian martyr.”
Tom’s consent is ambiguous, as it feeds Amanda’s illusion of how she thinks Laura ought to live. Finding a man for Laura will also, under Amanda’s terms, release Tom from his ties to the family. Both Tom and Amanda see themselves as martyrs sacrificing for the family—for Laura.