[TOM:] The last we heard of him was a picture postcard from Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, containing a message of two words: “Hello — Goodbye!” and no address. I think the rest of the play will explain itself. . . .
Tom Wingfield, acting as the narrator, addresses the audience in the opening monologue of the play. After introducing the four main characters, he brings in a fifth character, his father, who left the family long ago. The defiant postcard adds insult to the injury of the father’s abandonment. The last line here not only introduces the action of the play, but also suggests that the father’s abandonment will help the play explain itself. In fact, the story will reveal that the abandonment caused deep and long-lasting emotional, psychological, and economic damage.
AMANDA: Oh, I can see the handwriting on the wall as plain as I see the nose in front of my face! It’s terrifying! More and more you remind me of your father! He was out all hours without explanation! — Then left! Goodbye! And me with the bag to hold. I saw that letter you got from the Merchant Marine. I know what you’re dreaming of. I’m not standing here blindfolded. [She pauses.] Very well, then. Then do it! But not till there’s somebody to take your place.
Amanda talks to Tom about his future and that of his sister, Laura. Amanda and Tom have achieved an uneasy peace after a bitter fight over Tom’s right to independence and privacy. Amanda now makes a desperate, rather pathetic appeal, trying to make Tom feel guilty for his father’s abandonment. Amanda’s appeal shows that she has transferred her expectations from her husband to her son and now tries to transfer parental responsibility onto Tom as well. From the fact of the Merchant Marine letter, the audience predicts that Tom will reject those responsibilities and abandon his mother and sister.
JIM [taking Laura’s hand]: Goodbye, Laura. I’m certainly going to treasure that souvenir. And don’t you forget the good advice I gave you. [He raises his voice to a cheery shout.] So long, Shakespeare! Thanks again, ladies. Good night!
Jim O’Connor bids farewell to Amanda and Laura Wingfield. He has just spent considerable time with Laura, drawing her out of her shyness by speaking kindly to her, sharing high school memories, encouraging her confidence, dancing with her, and even kissing her before revealing his engagement to someone else. Jim departs cheerfully, unaware that his casual flirtation has resurrected and then dashed the adolescent hopes of Laura and exposed the illusion of Amanda’s false expectations. Jim’s departure foreshadows Tom’s abandonment of Amanda and Laura at the end of the play.