Tom speaks to the audience, saying that after the fiasco at the business college, Amanda became obsessed with finding a "gentleman caller" for Laura.
The audience then sees Amanda. Realizing that some extra money will be required to spend on the apartment to make it look nice, she makes telephone calls selling subscriptions to a woman's magazine.
After the theater lights dim, the voices of Tom and Amanda are heard quarreling again. Tom is angry with Amanda's control over his life. The day before, she returned one of his books to the library because she did not approve of its contents.
The lights come up, showing a typewriter and a pile of manuscripts on the table. It appears that the quarrel was sparked by Amanda's interruption of Tom's creative work.
The quarrel continues. Tom says he is going out, and Amanda responds by saying she does not believe he goes to the movies every night. She thinks he must be doing something he is ashamed of. He comes home late and gets only a few hours sleep. Amanda is certain that he is jeopardizing his job, and their security. Tom replies that he hates his job at the warehouse and working there means he has to give up all his dreams. He says that if he was really as selfish as she thinks he is, he would already have left home, like his father did.
When he starts to go out, Amanda says she still doesn't believe he is going to the movies. He replies with some wild exaggerations about what he is really going to do, including going to opium dens and gambling casinos. He says he is a hired assassin and carries a tommy-gin in a violin case. Carried away by his anger and frustration, he calls Amanda a witch. He hurls his coat across the room where it smashes against Laura's collection of glass animals. Laura is horrified. Amanda is stunned by Tom's calling her a witch and says she will not speak to him until he apologizes. Amanda exits, leaving Tom and Laura together. Tom collects the broken glass.
If the previous scene showed how Amanda and Laura were each trapped in their own ways, this scene shows how Tom is trapped too. He is by nature a poet and a writer (as the pile of manuscripts on the table shows), and he cannot bear to fritter his life away working at the warehouse. He knows he has to escape.
The difference between Tom and his mother can be seen in their tastes in literature. Amanda likes romantic, escapist fiction of the sort published in The Home-maker's Companion, which suits her old-fashioned view of the world. Tom prefers D. H. Lawrence, who lauds the sensual, instinctive, earthy dimension to life. But Amanda regards Lawrence's books as "filth."
It is obvious that the glass menagerie is a symbol of the fragility of Laura's life. When some of the animals are accidentally broken, she cries out "as if wounded."