At the same time, every new failure only adds more to his need to hide from reality. This leads to the final point where he decides to commit suicide to save his family. This is his final illusion, where he wrongly believes that his family will be proud because so many people will come to his funeral. This shows that there is no change for Loman. He is escaping into a fantasy world at the beginning of the play, and his entire actions are governed by his false reality at the end of the play. This goes to the most extreme point, where he would rather kill himself than admit the truth.
Laura is quite different because she is at an earlier stage in her use of illusions. Her illusions are a knowing escape for her, but she is aware that they are not real. However, Laura is still young. It is possible to presume that if Laura continues to escape into her fantasy world as Loman does, it may eventually govern her also. The difference though is that Laura never has this chance. Through the events of the play, the reality of herself and her life becomes clear to her. When the glass menagerie shatters, it is as if her fantasy world shatters also. Returning to the different stages of their lives, it is worth remembering that Loman is an adult and Laura is a child at the start of the play. In saying this, it must be noted that Laura is 24 in the play. However, despite her age, she is a child in nature. The fantasy or dream world that she lives in can be likened to a child playing with dolls. She is young and her escape is like a form of playing to her, in that it is a temporary escape that she treats like a game. Her view of her escape as a game explains how she can find release in it, even while knowing that it is not reality. Laura acting as a child is also probably exaggerated despite her age because of the actions of her mother. As Judith Thompson (17) notes, Laura's mother is blind to the reality of her daughter. She will not acknowledge Laura's handicap and will not allow it to be spoken of. She also does not acknowledge Laura's personal weaknesses and her shyness. In doing this, Laura's mother makes it more difficult for Laura to accept reality because her home environment becomes one based on a fantasy world. With this environment, it could be expected that Laura might just accept her mother's fantasies and escape her problems by pretending they do not exist like her mother does. However, Laura does not do this. Instead, she tries to face her own imperfections. This is significant and shows that Laura's fantasy world is only a means of temporary escape because she cannot cope. Overall, she does not choose fantasy over reality. In addition, even in her escape, there are elements of her reality. One telling sign is the way she most adores the rare animals in her glass menagerie, especially the unicorn. This suggests that even in her fantasy world, she is actually trying to come to terms with reality and accept herself.
This leads to a consideration of the outcome for both characters. It has already been seen that Loman's story ends with his suicide, which is the ultimate negative ending and represents his complete demise. Laura's story ends differently, with her turning point occurring when the glass menagerie breaks. This represents the shattering of her dreams and her acceptance of reality. This also represents the point where she gains an adult awareness of herself. This is emphasized by her action in giving the unicorn that she loved so much to Jim as a parting gift. This shows that she is willing to give up the glass menagerie of her childhood. At the end of the play after Jim leaves, she is left crying. While this might seem like a negative ending, it is actually a positive step for Laura. Her rejection by Jim is a significant moment for her and with her sensitivity and insecurity, would be more traumatic than for most women. The important point is that she does not respond to this by falling back into a fantasy world. Instead, she allows herself to feel the emotions. This shows that even in a difficult situation, she finds the strength to accept reality and deal with it. Unlike Loman, she does not hide away from her own failures. In summary then, it can be seen that Laura grows out of childhood fantasies. In contrast, Loman has carried his fantasy world into adulthood and continues to use it as an escape. This explains one of the major differences between Loman and Laura and shows how their different stages in life have a major impact on their final outcome. Loman is too old to change and his dream world takes over his life. Laura is not too old to change, and she adapts and grows up. This is why Loman's story is a tragedy, ending with his suicide, while Laura's story is positive, ending with her growing up and changing for the better.
While the plays are very different, the message they deliver is consistent. Both show the problems that can occur when people substitute the real world with a dream world. In "Death of a Salesman" the final result is seen by seeing Willy Loman's complete downfall as his dream world overtakes his life and leads to his eventual suicide. "The Glass Menagerie" shows a similar process of escaping into a dream world. However, Laura has her dream world shattered and returns to the real world. In doing so, it can be expected that she will go on to face further challenges without needing to escape into a fantasy world. In this way, Laura's story is a positive one where she manages to face her fears, while Loman's is a negative one showing the eventual outcome of living in a dream.
Centola, S.R. "Family Values in Death of a Salesman." CLA Journal 37.1 (1993): 29-41.
Davis, J.K. "Landscapes of the Dislocated Mind in Williams' 'The Glass Menagerie.'" in Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Ed. Jac Tharpe. Hattiesburg: Heritage Printers, 1977: 192-206.
Miller, a. "Tragedy and the Common Man." In Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Eds. X.J. Kennedy & Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 2002: 1948-1951.
Thompson, J. Tennessee William's Plays: Memory, Myth, and…