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Laura Winfield in The Glass Menagerie goes through a temporary metamorphosis during the course of the play. She is a slightly crippled and very shy young girl who is having a hard time finding her way in the world. She is hopeless and beautiful all at the same time. She is trapped in a world that is spiraling quickly into doom.
Laura lives in the St. Louis of the Depression with her restless brother Tom and her half-mad, overbearing mother Amanda. Her father left the family for a life on the road. "He worked for the telephone-company and fell in love with long distances." This left Tom as the only breadwinner in the family and her mother in a desperate and touched condition. Tom got a job in a warehouse. He deeply resented this and craved freedom and adventure. He would disappear every night to go to the movies to find his release. This would soon be not enough, though, and both Laura and her mother sensed this. The mother constantly hounded Tom. She would continually point out every flaw he had. They would erupt into fierce arguments that made it difficult to tell if she was deliberating with Tom or his absent father. Her mother was from the south; a place called Blue Mountain. She was a beautiful girl there and had a lot of gentleman callers. She pined bitterly over the loss of this place and time and the poor choice she made in husbands. Even if Laura had no physical defects it would have been hard for her to succeed given these circumstances.
At the beginning of the play Laura is wrapped up in her own little world of glass creatures and phonograph records. She is afraid of people and afraid of the world. She is like one of the inceptions in her glass menagerie. She is a thing of fragile beauty in a hard world. She doubts herself and her abilities. Her mother, though, is determined to see that her daughter does not become a victim of her situation. Her mother tries, almost too hard, to see her daughter through. It is, however, through her mother's attempts that we see the temporary metamorphosis of Laura.
In scene two we find out that Laura's mother has discovered that she has dropped out of business school.
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Amanda becomes obsessed with this thought and recruits Tom into her scheme. She begs, like a child for candy, for Tom to invite home a gentleman caller from work. After voicing disapproval in the situation and his mother's scheme he agrees to invite someone home. We find out later that the person he invites is Jim O'Donnell.
It is during the scene with Jim that Laura under goes her metamorphosis. When she first finds out it is to be Jim to call she becomes afraid. She wants to hide and tells her mother that she can't do it. Her mother tells her that this is nonsense and that she has to do it. "I must get the fear out of you child," she said as she forces her to answer the door when her brother and Jim arrive. When it is time for dinner Laura is so sick with fright that she passes out and has to lay on the couch throughout supper. After the meal is over Jim and Laura, at the mother's request, are alone together while Tom and Amanda clean up. It is here that the metamorphosis takes place.
At first Jim doesn't recognize Laura but after she explains how they know each other he recalls. They discuss their high school together. She opens up to him and tells him how hard it was for her and how self-conscious she was of her handicap. He tells her it was hardly noticeable. He tells her that her problem is a lack of confidence. He tells her that she is beautiful and that she, that everyone, has a one thing that they are good at. He asks her what her thing was. She shows him her glass menagerie. She shows him her favorite piece, the unicorn, the oldest piece. He asks her to dance. She says she can't. She says she never has. He says it doesn't matter. They dance. They bump the table where she had earlier placed the unicorn. It falls. The unicorn's horn was broken. She says it is O.K. she will just pretend that he had an operation to make him "feel a little less freakish." It is here. She has changed. She has become someone. She is confident, important, and loved. He says someone should kiss her. He does and the moment is over. He realizes himself, remembering his fiancee. He says this can't happen. She asks, "so you won't call again?" It's gone and she falls back into herself giving him the changed unicorn as a souvenir. She exits blowing out the candle, the last light.
In one great moment Laura changed and became the person she could have been only to fall back to what she had always been through a cruel twist of fate.