[TOM:] He is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from. But since I have a poet’s weakness for symbols, I am using this character also as a symbol; he is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.
Tom Wingfield, acting as the narrator, addresses the audience in the opening monologue of the play. Tom introduces Jim O’Connor without mentioning his name. Jim does not get a name until Scene Five and does not appear on stage until Scene Six. In spite of this delay, Jim drives much of the play’s action, because he functions as the target of Laura’s romantic fantasies and Amanda’s illusions.
[TOM:] He was the only one at the warehouse with whom I was on friendly terms. I was valuable to him as someone who could remember his former glory, who had seen him win basketball games and the silver cup in debating. He knew of my secret practice of retiring to a cabinet of the washroom to work on poems when business was slack in the warehouse. He called me Shakespeare.
Tom, speaking as the narrator, addresses the audience with more information about Jim. Since the play comes from Tom’s memory, he naturally describes Jim in relation to himself. Jim sees Tom the warehouse worker as Tom the famous writer. Jim’s role serves to acknowledge Tom’s talent. His role as a suitor for his sister Laura doesn’t really enter Tom’s thoughts.
JIM: Candlelight is my favorite kind of light. AMANDA: That shows you’re romantic! But that’s no excuse for Tom. Well, we got through dinner. Very considerate of them to let us get through dinner before they plunged us into everlasting darkness, wasn’t it, Mr. O’Connor? JIM: Ha-ha!
Jim O’Connor talks to Amanda after the electricity goes off because Tom has neglected to pay the bill. Jim, a normal, nice young man, makes a gracious comment. Jim politely flirts with Amanda and clearly appreciates the way Amanda makes light of an embarrassing situation. She behaves like a true Southern lady, and the gentleman caller reciprocates by lapping her act up.
[JIM:] You think of yourself as having the only problems, as being the only one who is disappointed. But just look around you and you will see lots of people as disappointed as you are. For instance, I hoped when I was going to high school that I would be further along at this time, six years later, than I am now. You remember that wonderful write-up in The Torch? LAURA: Yes! [She rises and crosses to the table.] JIM: It said I was bound to succeed in anything I went into! [Laura returns with the high school yearbook.] Holy Jeez! The Torch!
Jim talks to Laura as they discover a mutual bond—they both admire the person Jim used to be in high school. Jim uses this shared fascination to get Laura to talk. As a result of Jim’s encouragement, readers hear and see more of Laura in this scene than in any other part of the play.
[JIM:] I happened to notice you had this inferiority complex that keeps you from feeling comfortable with people. Somebody needs to build your confidence up and make you proud instead of shy and turning away and — blushing. Somebody — ought to — kiss you, Laura! [His hand slips slowly up her arm to her shoulder as the music swells tumultuously. He suddenly turns her about and kisses her on the lips. When he releases her, Laura sinks on the sofa with a bright, dazed look. Jim backs away and fishes in his pocket for a cigarette.]
Jim talks sweetly to Laura and then kisses her. The audience understands why he yields to this impulse. After all, Laura has been lost in total admiration of him from the moment he entered the room, and she has blossomed under his kindness. For Laura, the kiss represents a dream come true, but Jim instantly regrets his impulsive action.
[JIM:] The only trouble is that in my case — I’m not in a situation to — do the right thing. I can’t take down your number and say I’ll phone. I can’t call up next week and — ask for a date. I thought I had better explain my situation in case you — misunderstood it and — I hurt your feelings.
Jim explains to Laura that their kiss can’t lead anywhere. He does not apologize for the kiss. He merely backs off as quickly as he can. Jim realizes he has stepped over the line and now wants to extricate himself gracefully. He does not realize how much his kiss meant to Laura.
JIM: We’re going to be married the second Sunday in June. AMANDA: Ohhhh — how nice! Tom didn’t mention that you were engaged to be married. JIM: The cat’s not out of the bag at the warehouse yet. You know how they are. They call you Romeo and stuff like that. [He stops at the oval mirror to put on his hat. He carefully shapes the brim and the crown to give a discreetly dashing effect.] It’s been a wonderful evening, Mrs. Wingfield. I guess this is what they mean by Southern hospitality. AMANDA: It really wasn’t anything at all.
Jim bids a polite farewell to his hostess, Amanda, and blithely departs the scene, leaving Laura’s dreams and Amanda’s shattered illusions behind. Readers can sense his eagerness to depart and see that the incident with Laura has only increased his own self-esteem. But readers don’t blame him or hate him. Jim conducts himself as just an ordinary young man, swimming in emotional waters that are way over his head.