The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller in regard to themes of wishful thinking and fantasy
The play The Glass Menagerie was written in 1945 by Tennessee William whereas the play Death of a Salesman was written by Arthur Miller in 1949. These plays were first meant to be appreciated as live performances or theater but in this case they are shown as written texts or drama. In the Death of a salesman, Loman had the inability to differentiate between fantasies from reality. In regard to wishful thinking, Miller and Williams have struggled in their scripts to join the past and the present. Williams refers to Nolstagia as the priority condition for the play (Harold 9). The character of salesman and Menagerie are trapped in a spatial and temporal void. Their inability to relate well with the reality of the prevailing environment imprisons them in a much distorted memories of the past and wishful, wistful dreams over the redemptive future that will come (Bigsby Critical Introduction 2, 45). The character named Tom refused to deal with the reality and this made him to abandon his sister and his mother. The fantasy in form of alcohol, cigarettes, and movies cannot prevent the inevitable reality. This fantasy life can be in terms of escapism from the reality which is very evident in both the plays. Though Tom runs away from the reality, he does not find comfort the guilt was heavy in his heart and his mind was imprisoned (Abbotson 25).
Amanda on the other hand, went through a series of abandonments and he retreats back to her past that is a combination of reality and myth.
The mythic Blue Mountain that she had provided an illusion offered comfort to her from the hard and harsh realities of her prevailing situation. She does menial jobs so that she would provide for her family; she also takes care of her emotionally and physically incapable daughter who cannot take care of herself; and she lives with the situation of inevitability of the departure of her son. The character named Laura retreats back to the life of illusions, fantasy and wishful thinking of glass figurines when she encountered Jim briefly and her attendance in Rubicam's Business College. The family of Loman had the tragic element of not realizing that the contentment and security that they needed could not purchased. They have placed their highest value on myth and illusion. This character, Willy equates so much success to being personally attractive and well-liked and his dreams of a good future become powerful fantasies which leads him not to differentiate between reality and illusion (Beaurline 144).
The pressure of time is another factor that leads us to wishful thinking and fantasy. The protagonists prompt the evasions and lies which are the sources of despair, misunderstandings and living in the world full of fantasies (Bloom 91). William in his play urges us to confront the concepts of illusion and reality from the very first scene to the very last. For him, everything that is remembered nostalgically does not exist in time and is immune to ravages of time.
The audience is urged to confront the concepts of reality, illusion, truth and finally to be in terms with the needs of human creatures of controlling their aspects of individual destiny. In the play death of a salesman, the aspect of space and time are essential elements. The stage and the theater allow these two things to be together as present and past co-exist in the salesman's named Willy Loman mind as he dithers between illusion and reality where he finally succumbs to his personal twisted notions of respect, the American dream and love. The big question in these two plays is whether certain fantasies and illusions are required to sustain the personal self (Arthur 108).
In Miller's play, almost all the characters are well able to act upon the existing conflicts of society and self within their minds that are very imaginative. Whether the idea is perceived or real, there is the transcendence level which is an area that is between illusion and reality which is the part of fantasy and wishful thinking. Both plays employ music, lighting, and the screens on stage to blend the fantasy world and to differentiate reality from illusion. William employs creative literary techniques and this is done by making Tom both the character and the narrator in the play. This gives him Tom the authority to use poetic license so that he tries to come with fantasy world and the reality. The image of loss is mostly used by Williams to play in the dynamics of reality versus illusion in order to allow all the characters to create their own personal reality. As the play starts, there was fire that Laura tripped into on her way to the green grocer store and this was used to dramatizing the ineffectual attempts that she had made to escape the illusory world of fantasy (Harold 47).
Tom often had wishful thinking that he was dead. This was because he worked in a shoe warehouse which stiffened his aspirations and his mother kept complaining and accusing him. There was also "Rise and Shine" wake-up calls which made him live in the wishful thinking world (Menagerie 41). In the death of a salesman, the A.D. Choudhuri also observes, "Dreams of a better future slowly take the shape of wishful fantasies, so much so that the sharpness of the conflict between reality and illusion, between Loman's little dreams and the impersonal forces of society, seem to be apparently lost in comprehensive images of extraordinary poetic force" (70). Apparently, Willy never nurtures affection, family relations, and love and replaced them with superficial qualities such as "appearances are everything" and making connections." The fantasy world becomes so prevalent in this family (Harold 34).
Some of the characters in the Glass Menagerie have the real capacity that they could ground themselves on in real life and hence maintaining the sense of self. Though this is not the case in the death of a salesman, Willy ultimately loses his life while chasing his success by achieving the so called qualities. He places so much value in superficial aspect of the dream of the Americans and chases dignity, recognition, and honor, peace of mind and sense of importance that they believe that they are purchased (71).
The character named Willy Loman can never be satisfied because he is a metaphor of showing us how a person would end up if he does substitute an illusion for reality. This is not the case in the other play because the characters are able to merge both reality and illusions. Illusion is part of the reality according to Miller's but in the Glass Menagerie, the reality is referred to as truth in the pleasant and beautiful disguise of illusion (Harold 22).
As a conclusion both the plays are very important and have differences and similarities especially with regards to the themes of wishful thinking and fantasy. They are well represented in both the plays and are recommended. These could apply in our day to day lives and everyone should take care that we are not taken over by the wishful thinking, dreams and fantasies.