This essay aims at comparing and contrasting the theme of fantasy and wishful thinking as presented in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) and also in Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie (1945). Both playwrights have intensively used characters who resort into habits of escapism into fantasy and wishful thinking to free themselves from their miserable existence. The main sources of their predicaments are their consistent failures in achieving their dreams, little interaction and communication with family members coupled with personal insecurities. Due to these facts, they all have a common problem which is frustration and boredom. They resort in a world of fantasy and wishful thinking where they find security and protection. They are absorbed by the illusion of the American Dream which fails to materialize. This study aims at shedding some light on the Loman’s family in comparison and contrast to the Wingfiled’s family from a thematic perspective. It will revolve around how the two families were affected by fantasy and wishful thinking and the similarities and differences.
Upon a closer examination of the two literary works, it is clear that similarities not only regard the times of publication, but also the analogous themes contained therein. Specifically, both of the plays fight to distinguish between fantasy and reality, the hardships of living in the present and the imminent need to escape. Both Willy and Amanda deny the underachievement of their families and believe that they have the ability to determine the destiny of their children. Amanda does not treat Laura as a cripple and corrects all those who allude otherwise in the play. Both parents have an inner belief that they know the best things for their children as they struggle to guide their children’s lives.
Amanda is against Laura’s stay at home arguing that she lacks the chance to have a social life and interact with probable suitors. Laura comes up with many excuses to stay at home evident that she is against the idea of having a more social life and proceeds to play with her glass menagerie (William 18). Just like Amanda, Willy believes that he is doing the right thing. He once had the opinion that Biff did not need to study. Tom, in The Glass Menagerie is of the belief that Jim will succeed in his quest for the Whitehouse. From a realistic perspective, a factory worker like Jim has slim to nil chances of becoming the president or any other high political office. Happy is also absorbed into the American dream when he refers to himself as the assistant buyer but Biff reminds him of his role of the assistant buyer’s assistant (Miller, 11). By the use of fantasy and wishful thinking, the characters in the two plays see themselves in unrealistic positions.
Amanda keeps on referring to her yester years when she once had seventeen callers who were gentlemen (Williams, 32). This is ironical considering the fact that she was left by her husband early in their marriage. Willy on his side believes that he is a successful and seasoned salesman and that when he arrives at an auction, buyers’ crowd all over him (Miller, 33). This is ironical because his net sales of the day tell a different story (Miller, 82). The two parent characters are evidently unable to distinguish between wishful thinking and reality. Other characters in the plays may have tried to hint to the two about their unrealistic expectations but to no avail. Amanda has very high expectations from the gentleman caller where he anticipates that he will fall in love with Laura and marry her after one meal together. Tom tries to hint that Jim is not familiar with Laura and that she should lower her expectations. It is later clear that Jim is engaged to a girl named Betty. When Willy talks about the greatness of his funeral, Ben tries to warn him on not making a fool of himself. In the end when Willy finally dies in a car crash, very few people attend the funeral because Willy has very few friends (Miller, 137).
In both plays, most of the characters are obsessed and dependent on memories of the past. The consequence is that the characters in both plays are incapable to live in the present time. They mostly resort to past experiences in an aim of compensating for what they lack presently. Amanda’s constant reference to her unique and special day as a young lady in Blue Mountain is a perfect example. When Jim, who he expects to fall in love with her daughter, is due to come for dinner, she wears a white dress that she used to wear in her yester years. She goes ahead to entertain the visitor as she used to entertain her male callers. Willy relives his past in a different way by replaying it in his own mind. He recounts times in the past when he had good relations with his two sons. He used to enjoy the moments with his sons especially when they washed his car (Miller, 28). Presently, both of his sons do not show much respect for him as they once had. He remembers when Billy was a successful football player and he felt that he had accomplished his role as a father. He uses this memory to help him forget Bill’s current failure to secure employment.
In both plays, what happened in the past is often used as an excuse for failure that is occurring in the present time. The living room is dominated by a photograph of Mr. Wingfield. It reminds Amanda of how he abandoned her sixteen years ago and of her mistake the same way as Linder’s stockings constantly remind Willy of his terrible mistake. Linda’s stockings and Mr. Wingfield’s abandonment are the reasons that fuel the difficulties in the lives of both Amanda and Willy. Willie is also a wishful thinker as he blames his failure on the things that he did not do such as moving to Alaska (Miller, 80). In both plays, past experiences have a great impact as past actions or inactions often come and haunt the characters. It is of such a great magnitude that it affects the character’s ability to live in reality.
However, there also exist some fundamental differences in the use of the theme of fantasy and wishful thinking between the two plays. In the play The Death of a Salesman, Willie’s form of wishful thinking is centered on deception although it contains some historical truths. He consistently deceives Linda on how much he earns his capabilities as a salesman among other factors. His popularity and fame are actually proved wrong when he dies and very few show up for the funeral revealing that he had very few friends and that the situation was not as he presented. He also deceives Biff of his meeting with Bill which he says that he had to wait for six hours only for Bill not to remember him (Miller, 72). This habit of deception and wishful thinking appears to have been passed on to his youngest son Happy who is also a wishful thinker. Biff is perhaps the most real member of the family although he has an employment problem. In contrast to this, in The Glass Menagerie, the fantasy and wishful thinking is mostly centered around a real historical events or some fictional imagination but does not involve deception. Amanda is the best example with her constant revelation of her past and how on one Sunday had many callers unlike Laura who is shy and reserved. Laura has an obsession with her glass menagerie whereas Tom ventures into the movie world to take his mind off the reality of taking care of his mother and sister (William, 45).
In a bid to make their fantasies a reality, Willy ends up taking his own life so that Bill can use his insurance money unlike Amanda who emerges stronger at the end of the play when Tom leaves. Unlike Willy, Amanda is not as obsessed with her past as Willy and hence would not go to the extent of killing herself to correct historical mistakes as Willy does. Whereas both Amanda and Willy as parents have the desire to control and influence the lives of their children due to their fantasies, Amanda’s control mainly revolves around marriage and family whereas Willy’s control is aimed at making his son Billy a successful businessman.
Arthur Miller Death of a Salesman (1949)
Tennessee William The Glass Menagerie (1945)