The straightforward, iron-willed Jim contrasts sharply with the elusive, delicate Laura. Jim is, as Tom says in Scene One, a representative from the “world of reality.” His entrance marks the first time in the play that the audience comes into contact with the outside world from which the Wingfields, in their various ways, are all hiding. As embodied by Jim, that world seems brash, bland, and almost vulgar. His confidence and good cheer never waver. He offers Tom, and later Laura, a steady stream of clichés about success, self-confidence, and progress. Whereas Laura’s life is built around glass, Jim plans to build his around the “social poise” that consists of knowing how to use words to influence people.
Jim is as different from the rest of the Wingfields as he is from Laura. Whereas Tom sees the warehouse as a coffin, Jim sees it as the starting point of his career. For Jim, it is the entrance to a field in which he will attain commercial success, the only kind of success that he can perceive. Amanda lives in a past riddled with traditions and gentility, while Jim looks only toward the future of science, technology, and business. Given these contrasts, one might expect Jim to be bewildered and disgusted by the Wingfields and to be repulsed by the claustrophobia and dysfunction of their household. Instead, he is generous with them. He is good-natured about Tom’s ambivalent performance at his job, and most important, he is charmed by Laura’s imagination and vulnerability. Given Jim’s philosophy of life and belief in the value of social grace, it is possible that his remarkable tolerance and understanding is not a result of genuine compassion but, rather, an expression of the belief that it is always in one’s best interest to try to get along with everyone.
While Jim’s presence emphasizes the alienation of the Wingfields from the rest of the world, it simultaneously lends a new dignity and comprehensibility to that alienation. Jim’s professed dreams present a nightmare vision of the impersonality of humanity—shallow, materialistic, and blindly, relentlessly upbeat. We are forced to consider the question of whether it is preferable to live in a world of Wingfields or a world of Jims. There is no easy answer to this question, but it seems possible that, for all their unhappiness, Amanda and Tom would choose the former because the Wingfields’ world is emotionally richer than Jim’s. Along these lines, it seems possible that the outside world has not so much rejected the Wingfields as they have rejected the outside world.