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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
You're soon to meet Jim O'Connor, the man designated by Amanda to rescue Laura from a life of dependency. Early in his narration, Tom called Jim a symbolic figure-"the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for." At the start of this scene Tom tells you about the real Jim O'Connor:
Tom recalls that Jim was the most revered student at Soldan High School-popular, talented, athletic-the kind everyone envies. You suspect, too, that Jim is the high school hero Laura liked years ago. But the real world failed to treat Jim as kindly as the world of school. Six years after graduation, he holds only a modest job at the Continental Shoemakers warehouse. Because Tom remembered the days of Jim's triumphs, Jim valued Tom's friendship. He also nicknamed Tom "Shakespeare" for his habit of writing poetry in the warehouse bathroom during slow hours.
Jim's arrival approaches. Amanda has brightened up the apartment overnight. Laura wears a new dress. The stage directions say that a "fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in Laura: she is like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting." Do you find the last few phrases of that description ominous? Is Laura's prettiness an illusion?
Amanda intends to snare the unsuspecting Mr. O'Connor. The final touch is
her own "spectacular appearance." She dons the same party dress
that she wore as a girl-the one she wore the day she met her future husband.
The garment is totally out of place in a St. Louis tenement, but to Amanda,
for the time being, the apartment could just as well be a mansion in Mississippi
on the night of the Governor's Ball. Can there be any doubt that Amanda
has attempted to re-create a piece of her own youth? If Laura can't win
Mr. O'Connor with her lovely fragility, Amanda intends to overwhelm him
Amanda has kept Jim's name from Laura until now, just a few minutes before her prospective beau is due to arrive. Another little deception, Amanda? Laura is horrified by the revelation. She's overcome with fright and claims to feel sick. She refuses to open the door when the knock comes. Instead, she darts to the record player, her safe haven. But Amanda forces her to let Jim in.
Jim acknowledges Laura, but hardly notices her. He's too involved in telling Tom about a public speaking course he's taking. Jim is also intent on advising Tom to shape up at the warehouse. The boss disapproves of Tom's work and has talked about firing him.
The warning doesn't trouble Tom. Rather, he almost welcomes it because he knows that he has completed his side of the bargain with Amanda. He tells Jim that he's ready to quit the job anyway. He's even tired of the vicarious thrills he gets in the movies. He wants firsthand excitement now. Tom shows Jim a Union of Merchant Seamen card, which he bought with money that he should have used to pay the light bill. Jim, however, dismisses Tom's revelations as hot air. Could it be that Jim doesn't believe his friend, or that he doesn't understand him?
Presently Amanda, oozing charm, joins the two young men. Her appearance shocks Tom. Even Jim is taken aback slightly. Amanda must think that talking nonstop is the best way to impress Jim. She plunges ahead at full throttle, skipping from topic to topic at random. This is Amanda in her prime, entertaining a flock of gentleman callers in Blue Mountain.
Tom is embarrassed, but Jim, after his initial shock, is won over. He nods and smiles at Amanda's monologue, and during the remainder of the scene says literally only one single word.
Meanwhile Laura remains terror stricken in the kitchen. Her illness is not feigned. Fear has brought on a fever. Amanda explains to Jim that Laura became ill standing over a hot stove. Tom helps Laura into the living room to lie down.