March 15, 2015
Fences / Death of a Salesman
August Wilson’s Fences depicts the life of a former Negro League baseball player turned sanitation worker Troy Maxson and the relationships he has with the people around him. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman mainly focuses on the tragically unsuccessful life of Willy Loman and the impact he has on his family. In this essay I will examine these characters and their impacts on their loved ones.
In the story Fences, Troy Maxson exemplifies an African American subjected to much wrongdoing and subsequently disgruntled by the “White Man”. He was a Negro League baseball player in his younger days, however, when the Major Leagues began accepting African Americans; he was too old to participate. He then becomes a sanitation worker as a garbage lifter and is also unsatisfied in this position because there are no African American garbage truck drivers and he feels he deserves to be promoted.
Troy frequently criticizes the lives and choices of his family. Maxson repeatedly refuses to accept or even respect his son Lyons decision to become a jazz musician. He says that his wife’s (as well as his son’s) affinity for the lottery is simply “throwing your money away”. He even goes so far as to tell his son’s football coach that he can no longer play simply because he lied about working when he was actually at football practice.
During all his criticism Troy remains indifferent to his own situation. He calls his son’s jazz “Chinese music” because he doesn’t understand it which only reveals (other than the obvious racial discrimination and disrespect) he is ignorant to facets of his own culture. He has recently been promoted to being a garbage truck driver; however, he doesn’t know how to drive. He speaks about the cost of his wife and son gambling by playing the lottery while he is making a gamble of his own by cheating on his wife.
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman represents a man wildly in pursuit of the American Dream, even though he doesn’t ever actually achieve it. His desperation eventually leads to the loss of his own sanity as he begins to have conversations with his dead brother about the success he desires for his family. He is a traveling salesman who makes little more than enough money to cover his family.
Willy, much like Troy, frequently criticizes his own family but also criticizes his neighbors seemingly in an effort to mask his own insecurities. He tells his wife that his son Biff is a lazy bum. He tells his neighbor Charley that “a man who can’t handle tools isn’t a man” then proceeds to call him “disgusting”. Willy tells his sons they will be more successful than the neighbor’s son because he isn’t “well liked”.
Willy, likely due to his delusional tendencies, repeatedly contradicts himself throughout the story. He tells his wife “nothing happened” while driving home from work, then says he nearly ran a child over. He says his car is worthless, then says it’s “the best car ever built”. He says he is well liked, and then says people often make fun of him.
In both stories, the main character believes themselves to be both great fathers and husbands. While this is quite contrary to the truth, because they both cheat on their wives with no sense of guilt afterwards, as well as diminish the chances of success for one of their sons.
Troy Maxson’s adultery led to an illegitimate daughter, whom he had to bring into his home and inform his family of his extramarital activities. Willy Loman’s adultery didn’t lead to another child; however his son did discover the betrayal. Troy’s decision to remove his son from the school football team and refusal to sign his college football permission slip caused him to be unable to play for the college team. Biff’s discovery of his father’s affair caused him to lose the hope to fulfill the dreams his father had for him.
Both Troy Maxson and Willy Loman die in their respective...
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