In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams presents a generational difference in the characters’ attitudes, as well as personal differences between the siblings. Of the three Wingfield family members, Laura is the least realistic in her attitudes toward life. That being said, there are ways in which she is realistic. The contradiction between her awareness and her ability is central to the play’s theme of illusion.
Although Amanda knows that times have changed, she is an optimist where her daughter is concerned. Amanda has strength of character and a survivor instinct, which have enabled her to adjust to the harsher, capitalist reality in which the family lives. She was not raised to be self-sufficient and she earns little money, but she has accepted the necessity of working in order to raise her children.
Laura’s fragility—her glass-like character—renders her incapable of following her mother’s practical lead. She is hopeless at secretarial school and, rather than discuss the problems with her mother, she has just stopped going and is living a lie. Amanda’s strength has thus become a liability because Laura assumes she could not win an argument with her mother. She is unrealistic in imagining that she can somehow survive without money, but realistic in understanding that she is unsuited for the type of career or marriage her mother envisions for her.