Laura is still lying on the sofa, beautiful in the dim lamplight. As dinner is finished, the lights flicker and go out. Amanda lights candles and asks Jim to check the fuse box, which he does, although he knows why the lights have gone out. Amanda asks Tom if he has paid the light bill, and Tom admits he has not. Amanda assumes that he forgot, and Jim’s enthusiasm helps to smooth over the tense moment.
Instead of transforming Laura into the idealized glamour magazine version of the perfect woman that Amanda envisions, Amanda’s new floor lamp and dress have brought out Laura’s own otherworldly, fragile beauty. The extinguishing of the lights foreshadows Tom’s eventual abandonment of the family.
Amanda gives Jim an antique candelabrum from a church and a bottle of dandelion wine, instructing him to go to the living room and keep Laura company. Jim speaks to Laura gently and lightly. The incident is much more fraught and anxious for her than for him. Laura speaks faintly, though she eventually relaxes somewhat.
The candles and the wine help to remove the scene between Laura and Jim from reality. Memory, as Tom explains in the beginning of the play, is dimly and romantically lit, as it is here. Laura begins to feel as though she living in a dream scenario, which is where she feels comfortable.
Jim sets the candles on the floor, sits on the floor as well, and urges Laura to join him. As he chews a piece of gum, he talks about the Century of Progress in Chicago. Laura eventually, hesitantly, relaxes a little, accepting a piece of gum from Jim.
Jim’s gum-chewing is the banal, less dangerous version of Tom’s chain-smoking. Laura’s acceptance of the piece of gum is, for her, a bold and intimate gesture.
Laura asks Jim if he has kept up with his singing, and she reminds him that they knew each other in high school. At first, Jim doesn’t remember, but when Laura mentions “Blue Roses,” he springs up with a vivid flash of recollection. They recall their chorus class together. Laura describes her embarrassment when she had to clump with her leg brace up the aisle, but Jim tells her that he never noticed. Jim tells Laura that she need not be so shy, that everyone has problems.
The nickname “Blue Roses” draws Jim into Laura’s world of memories. Jim’s recollection of Laura is very different from her version of herself: though she remembers dragging her leg as though in the spotlight, all eyes on her, Jim claims not to recall her slow marches up the aisle of the choir room.
Laura and Jim leaf through the high school yearbook, The Torch. Laura admits that she had wanted Jim to sign her copy of the program from the light opera he starred in, which he does now. She works up the nerve to ask about the girl to whom he was supposedly engaged, but Jim says that they were never engaged and that he doesn’t see her anymore.
The yearbook’s name, The Torch, is yet another source of light in the play; “torch” is also a slang for an old crush or romance. Laura’s vague hopes, kindled by the shared memory of Blue Roses, grow stronger when Jim tells her that he and his high school sweetheart have broken up.
Jim asks Laura what she has done since high school, and she starts to explain that her glass collection takes up much of her time. Jim launches into a long speech about inferiority complexes. He tells Laura that she lacks confidence and that all she needs to overcome her shyness is to think of herself as superior. He announces his goal of becoming a television producer.
Just as Amanda projects her dreams and vision for the future onto Laura, Jim uses Laura’s shyness as a springboard to discuss his own success at overcoming inferiority complexes. Not only is Laura like glass in her fragility, she also refracts everyone else’s light so that their personalities seem to shine more brightly.
Laura tells Jim about her glass animals. She hands him the unicorn, her favorite, to hold. He says, lightly, that since unicorns are extinct in the modern world he must be lonesome. Jim puts the unicorn on the table, as Laura directs him to do, away from the rest of the collection.
The glass unicorn, Laura’s favorite figurine, is much like Laura herself: beautiful, unique, and extinct in the modern world. The unicorn’s movement to the table, away from the rest of the animals, mirrors the change of scenery that Jim’s presence provides for Laura. Laura tells Jim that the unicorn likes the change, leaving unspoken the subtext that she does, too.
Jim and Laura hear waltz music from the Paradise Dance Hall. Despite Laura’s protests, Jim leads her in a clumsy waltz around the room. They suddenly bump into the table, and the unicorn falls. Its horn is broken off. Laura appears to be unfazed, saying that now it’s become like all the other horses.
As Jim leads Laura in the waltz, she lets herself trust him. But just when the dance seems to be going most smoothly, the unicorn’s horn shatters. Laura’s apparent calm suggests that she enjoyed being treated as an ordinary girl, not as a cripple, and perhaps might be able to see herself as ordinary.
Jim tells Laura that she is as uncommon as blue roses and says that someone ought to kiss her. He turns her toward him and kisses her on the lips. As Laura sinks into the sofa, Jim immediately curses himself for what he has done and lights a cigarette.
The accident makes Jim more aware of Laura as a woman, and her peculiarities are attractive to him. His impulsive kiss, however, breaks the spell. He lights a cigarette, which reminds the audience of Tom’s use of cigarettes as an escape mechanism: rather than the gum that sticks him to the scene, the cigarette lights his way out.
Jim confesses to Laura that he is engaged to Betty, an Irish Catholic like himself. Laura is disconsolate, but Jim does not notice the depths of her despair. She places the broken unicorn in his hand, telling him to keep it as a souvenir.
When Jim tells Laura about Betty, Laura’s dream shatters like the glass horn. The broken unicorn souvenir becomes a memory that Jim can carry into the reality of his everyday life, but it now also symbolizes the normal woman that Laura will never become.
Amanda waltzes in with lemonade, and Jim becomes awkward and tense. Amanda tells Jim that he will have to be a frequent caller in the future. Jim says that he has to leave and tells her about Betty, and though Amanda maintains her poise, the atmosphere suddenly changes. Jim says goodbye to everyone and leaves.
Amanda still sees the scene through her deluded eyes until Jim tells her about Betty, whereupon her vision shatters. Although she treats the information without missing a beat, her overly cheery reception and frozen smile show that just under the veneer, she is crumbling.
“Things have a way of turning out so badly,” says Amanda. She accuses Tom of playing a joke on them, but Tom insists that he didn’t know about Jim’s engagement. He leaves to go to the movies, and Amanda yells that for all he cares about the family, he might as well go to the moon.
Tom smashes his drink glass on the floor and bursts onto the fire escape. Inside the house, Amanda holds Laura in her arms, stroking her hair. Tom delivers a passionate, emotionally fraught closing monologue. He tells the audience that he left St. Louis, going much further than the moon, “for time is the longest distance between two places.” He wandered from city to city, following in his father’s footsteps. But no matter how far he traveled, some piece of glass or flash of light always reminded him of his sister. In the living room, Laura blows out the candles as Tom bids her goodbye.
Amanda soothes Laura, but since we cannot hear them, we do not know whether or not Amanda is still immersed in her own delusions. Tom the character exits, and Tom as narrator delivers his impassioned, poignant final monologue. Although he has physically escaped the apartment, his emotions linger. The play itself is Tom’s cathartic attempt to purge himself of his memories and to free himself through this final act of escape. Laura blows out the candles, extinguishing her hopes, as Tom turns away and frees himself, perhaps, from the family and the play.