The Wingfield apartment faces an alley in a lower middle class St. There is a fire escape with a landing that serves as a porch. "The scene is memory," indicate the stage directions, and, as such, the interior is "rather dim and poetic." There is a screen-like surface on which words or images periodically appear. Tom steps on stage dressed as a merchant sailor and speaks directly to the audience. The wall of the apartment is opaque behind him; it becomes translucent as his monologue concludes, revealing the dining room.
Tom's narration is, (again, according to the stage directions themselves), "an undisguised convention of the play.[h]e takes whatever license with dramatic convention is convenient to his purposes." Tom tells us he is the opposite of a magician because he shows us truth disguised as illusion. He sets the scene for the social background for the play, describes his role in it, and introduces the other characters by name. One character in particular, the gentleman caller, Tom singles out as a symbol of unrealized hope. The fifth and final character, the father, does not appear in the play: he skipped town long ago and hasn't been heard from except for a terse postcard farewell from Mexico.
Amanda calls Tom to the dinner table and Tom takes his place. Amanda nags him about the way he chews his food. Laura rises to fetch something, but Amanda insists that she sit down and keep herself fresh for gentlemen callers. Laura says she isn't expecting any gentlemen callers. Amanda sets into what must be an excruciatingly familiar account of the time she entertained 17 gentlemen callers one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain. Tom obliges his sister and asks his mother the scripted questions that necessarily punctuate this account. Amanda is apparently oblivious to his tone. She catalogues the men and their subsequent fates, how much money they left their widows, how they died carrying her picture.