The protagonists in the plays, “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller and “Fences” by August Wilson contain many similarities and differences which lead to the “tragic flaws” contained in each story. These flaws and experiences, the natural forces that they have to deal with throughout the plays, and the symbolisms which occur lead to significant meanings.
There are several similarities between Willy Loman and Troy Maxson. Willy and Troy have specific dreams and goals for their sons that are shaped by their own beliefs and values. Willy wants Biff to be a football star instead of getting good grades. Troy forces his son to quit the football team so that he can work regular hours at the A&P store. Troy explains his motives, “I told that boy about that football stuff. The white man ain’t gonna let him get nowhere with that football. I told him when he first come to me with it… He ought to go and get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living” (Wilson, 1986). Both sons end up losing their scholarships due to their lack of focus on their grades in school. Throughout the play, Willy focuses more on his son Biff because he believes that Biff has what it takes to be a successful salesman. Willy states, “…I’ll show you all the towns…And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England…I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own” (Miller 1919). Similarly to Willy, Troy Maxson also desired to chase after the American dream. Troy tried to become a member of a Major League baseball team, but before he was able to be recruited, he lost his ability to play due to losing his athletic ability. Troy is still very upset with white people because of the discrimination and segregation that occurred with him and his family. In the end, both Troy and Willy weren’t able to achieve what they had set out to achieve in their lives.
Along with similarities between these protagonists, there are many differences as well. An example is that they view death very differently. Willy wants to make something out of himself so he can leave his life insurance money to his family, and so people will go to his funeral. Willy states, “be liked and you will never want.” (Miller, 1919). Willy desired a high social status whereas Troy desired to have an equal life with the people around him. Troy grew up to face segregation and discrimination because of his race. Troy fears death, he wants to keep it away by building a fence around himself.
Both Willy and Troy face several natural forces throughout the plays. The situations that they face are important because they allow the plot to build and they maintain the attention of the reader and/or viewer. Willy struggles because of his failing business. He also faces internal struggles of feeling worthless because of his situations with his job. Willy’s life has been based around his job and creating a financially stable home, but he is failing to keep a steady income. Due to this struggle, he is unable able to keep up with the ideal economic status.
Troy struggles with his feelings of being segregated from society in his life. He insists on strict practices in order to protect himself and also his family from the world. An example of how he tries to protect his family is by building the fence. Not only does it keep the family together, but it keeps them safe from the outside opinions and discrimination that occurs. Troy not only is protecting his family, he is segregating himself instead of leaving it to society to dictate his segregation.
The symbolism of the fences in the play “fences” has a big role. The fence is an emblem of black people’s strength and their courage. Rose desires to keep the world away from her family, and to keep her family together. “Jesus, be a fence all around me every day. Jesus, I want you to protect me as I travel on my way. Jesus, be a fence all around me every day” (Wilson, 1986). Along with keeping her family together, building a fence provided a more private life against the harsh outside world. The fence reminds Troy of his baseball career and the stadium and fencing that surrounded him when he played. When Troy builds this fence, he is building his own baseball stadium.
To conclude, the differences and similarities between Willy Loman and Troy Maxson are apparent in creating an impact for the reader and/or viewer. The forces that these characters face in their stories and lives better explain what was occurring during the time period that they lived in. And the symbolism that occurs allows the reader to think more deeply into what these symbols mean and how they impact each character.