Death of a Salesman and Fences

Willy Loman and Troy Maxson, main characters of respectively, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and Fences by August Wilson, are incarnations of modern-day tragic heroes. Both characters try hard to assume their responsibilities as head of the family. Nonetheless, they have flaws which lead them to their downfall and also impact negatively on their respective families.

Troy Maxson grows up under the influence of his abusive father and also experienced racial injustice towards blacks; he is later jailed for robbery and murder. Troy’s difficult youth and his unfulfilled goal to become a professional baseball player in the major league fill him with resentment and anger. This combination of factors is at the origin of Troy’s flaws. Troy’s persistent bitterness for not achieving his aspirations in life makes him rancorous and transforms him into a domineering figure. It seems to me that, Troy escapes reality and now, it is difficult for him to agree with others as he becomes self-centered.  Troy does not see changes in the society and he even contests racial diversity in sports, refusing to believe Bono and Rose claims. Troy sees reality on the negative side leading him to create his own imagery world.

Troy’s self-destruction endeavor attains his climax when he feels that he has to control everything in his life, even by fighting death if necessary.  As an attempt to escape the overwhelming reality of his household, Troy has an affair with Alberta and also succeeds involuntary to isolate himself with the other members of his family by building an imaginary fence around him.

Troy impacts negatively on his household by trying to control everything around him. Unable to realize his own dreams, Troy unintentionally keeps his family members to achieve their goals.  Troy destroys his son Cory’s dream of becoming a professional football player when he refuses to sign his contract paper. Obviously, Troy was bitter over the absence of opportunity he has when he wants to join the football league.  Maybe, it seems hard for him to accept that his son is succeeding where he fails. Troy’s wife Rose abandons her own dreams in order to back Troy and her family up. Nonetheless, Troy destroys Rose’s hope when he starts an affair with Alberta. Troy prevents his son Lyons of becoming a musician and ruins his brother Gabriel future by sending him in an asylum.

Now, let’s discuss the second play. Willy Lowman, the main character in the play, Death of a Salesman, is a hardworking salesman, guided by an unstoppable and desperate goal of being successful. Nonetheless, Willy faces many difficulties in his life. The entire play turns around two different personalities of Willy: the way he sees himself and the way others see him.

South Coast Repertory presents “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, directed by Marc Masterson. Cast: Larry Bates (Happy), Chris Butler (Biff), Gregg Daniel (Uncle Ben), Celeste Den (Miss Forsythe), Tracey A. Leigh (The Woman), Becca Lustgarten (Letta), Georgina E. Okon (Jenny), Tyler Pierce (Howard Wagner), Christopher Rivas (Stanley), Charlie Robinson (Willy Loman), Kim Staunton (Linda), James A. Watson (Charley), Tobie Windham (Bernard). Segerstrom Stage, August 30 – September 29, 2013

I noticed at the beginning of the play that, Willy sees himself as being a popular and successful man.  After I realize that, Willy is acting this way because his intention is to maintain an image of a successful and well-liked man in front of his friends and family. The theory which supports Willy’s behavior is that, for him, in order to be successful, ones should be attractive and well-liked. However, as the play goes, Will starts to change his view on his own image as he sees failure everywhere in his life: in his job, as a father, and in his marriage.  In this play, Willy experiences a cruel downfall mainly due to his excessive pride sometimes mixed with guilt and a strong feeling of failure. Willy’s pride prevents him to seek help from others. When Willy loses his job, he is disappointed and guilty because he realizes that he will not be able to support his family.  From this point, I see Willy escaping completely reality by creating his own world. He devotes himself entirely to impress other people. In his escapade, Willy tries to find comfort with a mistress. When his son Biff discovers the truth about the extramarital relationship of his father, he has a very grating reaction; that leaves Willy guilty. “You fake! You phony little fake! You fake! Overcome, Biff turns quickly and weeping fully goes out with his suitcase. Willy is left on the floor on his knees”(p.121). Willy lost the trust of his son and his guilty feeling leads him to attempt suicide on many occasions.  Dragged into his imaginary world, Willy tries to use his son Biff as an instrument of self-realization. Willy almost ruins the life of Biff as he misleads him about his personality and achievements. Willy always wants to please his father but after he realizes that everything he knows about his father is fake, Biff is disappointed.

Choosing between these two plays is a difficult exercise. I liked the representations of the tragic destiny of these two common men of our modern time. Even if the two plays present some differences, they, both have many themes in common such as the quest for the American dream and the role of the head of the family, the father, in achieving this dream. After many hesitations, I picked Fences.

Alexandre Koffi

Entrepreneur, space enthusiast, dreamer, cosmic messenger.

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