Both of the plays, “The Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller and “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, have acting done based on memories that haunt a character in the play. In the “Death of a Salesman”, the acting shifts from present to past with the past at times intermingled with the present as the main character, Willy, seems unable to distinguish his memory’s flashbacks from reality. In “The Glass Menagerie”, the play shifts from present to past also, but the only actor in the present is the narrator Tom, whose memory the play is based on. While both plays use nonrealistic techniques with the scenery, music and characters to show actions from the past, they use them in different ways for different effects.
The scenery in these plays is set up to emphasize different ideas produced in the plays. In “The Death of a Salesman”, when the acting is in the present, the house is basically translucent and in one dimension with other apartment houses visible through the translucent walls; this emphasizes the crowded neighborhood which seems to bother Willy. When the acting is in the present, Miller writes, “the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through the door at the left” (1373; act 1). However, when the scene turns to the past, the apartment houses disappear, the background becomes covered in leaves and there are no more boundary lines, actors enter or leave a room by stepping through the walls (1373; act 1); this creates a sense of freedom not found in the past.
In “The Glass Menagerie”, Miller has the scenery set in a dimly lit atmosphere. Tom says, “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic” (1440; scene I). Williams uses images or legends on the screen throughout the play to emphasize ideas in the play. When Laura is talking about Jim, a boy she once liked, a screen image appears showing Jim as a high-school hero, bearing a silver cup, and when she remembers that he used to call her “Blue Roses”, there is an image of Blue roses (1445; scene II). Lighting is also used to bring attention to different actors or items in the play. In scene IV, the father’s photograph lights up when Tom wonders how someone could get free from a coffin without removing one nail (1450).
In “Death of a Salesman”, Willy is haunted from several memories and regrets from his past. In order for us to understand what is going on inside of Willy’s head, Miller writes the play with the memories in Willy’s head acted out. While for the audience, this is all in the past and not real, Willy’s brain has deteriorated to the point that for him, the memories are real life and very much happening in the present. Therefore, in acts of the past, we see Willy at the age he is presently but all of...