Leaning on the fire escape, Tom tells the audience about Jim. He describes Jim as the high-school hero, captain of sports teams, star of glee club, etc.: Jim seemed to be a rising star. But six years later, Jim’s star has stalled, as he and Tom are both warehouse clerks. Tom says that he is important to Jim as someone who knew Jim in his glory days. Jim calls Tom “Shakespeare” and is amused by his writing rather than resentful or hostile. Tom knows that Jim and Laura knew each other, but doubts that Jim remembers Laura.
Jim is Tom’s foil: a high school star and now a steady working man content with his lifestyle. Unlike Tom, who is filled with a constant restlessness, Jim is content to continue in his status quo. Because Jim is grounded in the real world and does not yearn for any other, he doesn’t resent Tom’s dreams and ambitions. Jim represents an in-between life for Tom: not trapped in the Wingfield apartment, but not an escape into an alternate reality.
In preparation for the gentleman caller, Amanda has transformed the apartment with lampshades and curtains. She dresses Laura, who is visibly nervous, in a soft, pretty dress, and stuffs “Gay Deceivers” in Laura’s bosom, laughing away Laura’s objections with the claim that girls must be a “pretty trap” for men. Amanda leaves to change and sweeps back into the room in a frilly dress that she wore to a cotillion in her youth. She carries a bouquet of jonquil flowers and reminisces about when she first met Laura and Tom’s father.
Amanda hides the broken and bare light bulbs with drapes just as she veils her view of the world with her own illusions. Amanda dresses Laura up as a version of her own youthful self and the version of a glamorous woman portrayed in the ladies’ magazines she sells. And she sees herself as the self that she fancies she once was, rather than the reality she occupies.
When Laura learns that the caller is none other than Jim O’Connor, the boy she loved in high school, she panics, claiming that she can never sit at the table with him. Amanda lightly dismisses her fear, but the legend on the screen reads “Terror!”
When Laura’s dream world collides with reality, she is terrified: Jim represents the fantasy of love, and his memory is her safe haven from facing the reality of a physical presence. She is terrified that her fragile fantasy will shatter when it comes into contact with the harsh real world.
Tom and Jim arrive and ring the doorbell. Laura is terrified and begs Amanda to open the door, but Amanda refuses, forcing Laura to be the one to open it. Tom and Jim can be heard talking on the landing. Laura desperately tries to buy time by winding the Victrola to play music, but eventually, she reluctantly opens the door.
Laura’s view of the world and Amanda’s view collide when Laura refuses to open the door. Amanda doggedly clings to her fantasy of Laura’s interaction with the gentleman caller and physically forces Laura to play a role that Laura is both unwilling to play and unsuited to take. Laura turns to the Victrola as a means of escape from the intense situation.
After awkwardly greeting Jim, Laura dashes to the Victrola and then through the portieres. Tom explains that Laura is terribly shy. Jim and Tom go onto the fire escape as Tom smokes, and Jim tells Tom to enroll in his course on public speaking.
Tom and Jim go to the fire escape nearly as soon as they enter the apartment, foreshadowing that they will both eventually escape and abandon Laura and Amanda. Jim’s way of living in the concrete, real world of the warehouse comes as a sharp contrast to Tom’s desires.
Tom tells Jim that he’s sick of the movies and wants, instead, to move. He reveals that instead of paying the light bill for the month, he paid his dues to become a member of the Union of Merchant Seamen, and proclaims that he is much like his father.
Tom has already begun to sacrifice his family for the sake of his own dreams, rather than vice versa. He has set into motion his escape: by literally turning out the lights, Tom the character will leave the family and Tom the narrator will, perhaps, leave the memory play.
Jim and Tom re-enter the house to find Amanda transformed into a grotesque version of herself as a young Southern belle. Amanda puts on her girlish mannerisms and thick Southern drawl. She praises Laura to Jim and recounts stories about her coquettish youth.
Amanda is so deep into her own vision of the world that she cannot see how ridiculous she appears in her bygone girlish garb. She aggressively cloaks herself in the past and views the present from the vantage point of these illusions and memories.
Amanda sends Tom to fetch Laura for supper, but Tom returns and announces that Laura is not well and will not come to the table. Amanda calls Laura, and Laura enters, but with a clap of thunder, Laura stumbles and moans. Amanda sends Laura into the living room to lie on the sofa. Amanda asks Tom to say grace as she glances anxiously at Jim.
Laura’s psychosomatic illness makes her seem more and more like her fragile, otherworldly glass menagerie. The grace recollects the elements of Christianity underlying Amanda and Tom’s earlier fight.