Comparison of the Two Protagonists

“Death of a Salesman” and “Fences” are among the most famous and popular plays of the American literature. Despite differences of the plot, two playwrights, Arthur Miller and August Wilson, connected in their plays familiar ideas and made the characters specific and outstanding heroes. Both stories demonstrate ordinary American family that tries to achieve the so-called American dream, but these attempts are vain. Numbers of concepts that show plays’ similarity are relationships in the family and outside, women’s roles and treatment, characters’ features, sport, desires, and so on. Miller and Wilson wanted to show the audience how each person could rise and fall down because of the unreal purposes and personality decline. Everybody wants to have more benefits and prosperity that they already have. Human nature is in satisfaction of the needs as proved by the American psychologist Maslow. His hierarchy of needs demonstrate typical human wishes and needs that they achieve moving from lower level to higher. “Death of a Salesman” and “Fences” perfectly suit to Maslow’s theory, but not always the main characters reach the higher level because of their tragedies and moral poverty.

The main hero in the play “Death of a Salesman” is Willy Loman. His character is complex and multifaceted man who is working hard relied on the appearance and charming smile. Though, Willy is in his own world of wishes and illusions, and he does not want to leave it. The salesman avoids evaluation of the harsh realities of life and evaded success. Troy from the play “Fences” is also a dreamer. In spite of doing something for the family profit, he tells his friend Bono fictional story about his struggle with the death. Nevertheless, in Willy’s case such ability has fearful nature; his wife and sons worry of his disorder. Troy’s problem is quite different; his family does not pay attention to such foolish dreams and even his wife Rose explains it by pneumonia. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the two protagonists’ self-esteem, confidence, life and job achievement are not succeeded. These two heroes have no respect by others; society does not sympathize and support them.

The other theme of both plays is the treatment of women. Willy Loman has the loving wife Linda, who takes care about his sons and supports him in everything. Instead of appreciation, Linda Loman gets humiliation and irritation from the husband. This character is an example of an ideal American wife: loving, reliable, supportive. Miller’s representation of Linda is a description of a woman who does not have any desires or aims. Her purpose is to serve the husband and sons for the sake of their happiness.

Miller stated the following:

I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person. (p. 199)

Although, Linda’s husband treated her like she was not pretty and smart enough to be on the same intellectual level with him. Troy’s wife Rose does not receive love and appreciation too. As Linda, she serves Troy and supports him. Even when she discovers husband’s treason she agreed to take care of his child born in sin, but from that moment Troy Maxson has no woman. According to Wilson (2007), “From right now…this child got a mother. But you are a womanless man” (p. 240). Thus, Troy Maxson and Willy Loman have families, loving and reliable wives, but they do not have happiness. Safety of the family and property is unknown to the both characters.

One of the main ideas of “Death of a Salesman” and “Fences” is a role of sport. Both main characters have sons, but treatment of them and their desires are different. Willy supports Biff’s ambition to play football and has huge plans for the son’s future. The salesman dreams that his son will be a famous football star and tells each neighbor about it. Though, when Biff failed math exam, Willy’s dreams fade away. His fears return, and thought that Biff loses opportunity playing football that might ensure his bright future leads Willy to fear that his son will repeat the fate of his father. Troy also is full of fears but they have another source. Troy Maxson does not support Cory; he does everything to prevent son’s decision to go in for sport. He even talks with the coach and proposes him financial help instead of Cory’s trainings. Troy is afraid of the fact that his son could repeat his fate (unrealized baseball dreams) because of race. Wilson (2007) stated, “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football no way” (p. 198). Nevertheless, his wife supports her son and tries to persuade her husband. According to Wilson (2007), “They got lots of colored boys playing ball now. Baseball and football” (p. 212). Though, her attempts failed. Thus, both parents take into account only their own beliefs, but Willy’s illusions are different from Troy’s skeptical mood.


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The concepts of lie and betrayal are expressed in the both plays. The nameless woman is presented like Willy Loman’s lover. She has all features of a character which Willy’s wife is deprived. Nevertheless, The Woman even has no name; Miller did not name this character. The payment that she wants for the close relationship with Willy is silk stockings, which also are the symbol of salesman’s guilt. August Wilson also provided such heroine in “Fences”. Alberta has an affair with Troy, but her character is never seen. The author decided not to pay attention to this female character. Therefore, it could be found similar author’s plans and symbols. The symbol of garbage man’s guilt is a child named Raynell, which is more considerable than symbol of salesman’s guilt. Willy tries to hide his close relationship with the nameless woman even being caught red by his son. According to Miller (1996), “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been” (p. 200). Troy’s betrayal comes out, and his son attempts to cover the truth from everybody in different ways. These two situations are quite different, but the guilt is the same. Thus, morality is not achieved, but Willy and Troy demonstrated satisfaction of physiological needs. Despite this, such moral concepts as the responsibility to the family, problem solving and lack of prejudice are far away from these heroes. Men prefer to destroy themselves rather than to acknowledge the female as equal or to submit to a realistic and balanced feminine value system. This tragedy of the common man also wreaks the suffering of the common woman, who has trustingly helped the man to maintain and repair the dream and has helplessly watched him destroy it and make sacrifices meaningless.

Another main idea of the both plays is the fear of the death. Willy Loman is pursued by his own fears. He is not respected by the others; his business is not successful and his family suffers from credits. Willy Loman’s tragedy is shown in his material and moral problems. Thus, the salesman starts to think about suicide, which, in his opinion, could save his family from credit problems and provide his sons’ brighter future. Willy’s son Happy honors the memory of his father's death. Miller (1996) stated, “I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man” (p. 340). The play “Death of a Salesman” is an exact demonstration of the male American Dream. The play depicts men like unstable, undeveloped, non-logical, people who cheat. The same situation is observed in “Fences” by August Wilson. The playwright conferred the main character of the play fears to be neglected for his race. It is explained by the Wilson’s purpose, to represent American society of those days and its attitude to the color of skin. Nevertheless Troy is not afraid of death; he even overcame it in his imagination.

Wilson (2007) stated the following:

Alright… Mr. Death. See now… I’m gonna tell you what I'm gonna do. I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See? You stay over there until you're ready for me. Then you come on. Bring your army. Bring your sickle. (p. 98)

The main drama conflict of the both plays is the struggle between the society and people; illusive world and reality; reliable support and fears. Willy and Troy lost this fight; they were defeated by their own fears. Though Willy kills himself literally, his hero is already killed by the feelings of guilt and unjustified life plans.

The other thing is symbols which are used in the plays. Building a fence is the main symbol of Wilson’s play; it is something worth to be made.

The author stated:

You go on and get your book-learning so you can work yourself up in that A&P or learn how to fix cars or build houses or something, get you a trade. That way you have something can't nobody take away from you. (Wilson, 2007, p. 150)

The fence is important to the each member of the family but in different ways. Troy’s wife thinks that the fence is a protection from everything that could harm her family. From some point of view, it is true, but the main idea is that all in Maxson’s family built their own fence which encloses them from each other. According to Wilson (2007), “Some people build fences to keep people out … and other people build fences to keep people in” (p. 112). Arthur Miller also used a lot of symbols in “Death of a Salesman”, but among the others such as seeds, stockings and the rubber hose the main symbol is music. Sounds of flute are heard during the whole play. It reminds Willy Loman about his father who made flutes and had wealthy life. As well the flute music is a symbol of life, which Willy could have, but he did not choose the father road.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Troy Maxson and Willy Loman are two people who stuck on one level and do not advance for the next. American psychologist states that if a person does not have enough of something he or she will always strive for greater. Thus, these heroes did not appreciate everything that they had, and all the time they wanted more and more: respect, acknowledgment, and wealth. In spite of this, the two protagonists did not find a solution of the problems; they were devoid of morality and creativity. The first level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is physical needs, which include breathing, sleeping, need for food, water, sex and so on. Willy and Troy took care of it, so they reached the next level that is safety needs. Both characters had problems with the employment, family and property. Troy was not satisfied with his job, and he struggled with the treatment of his race; he even betrayed his wife that shows his dissatisfaction with family and wife. The same situation had Willy Loman, who was a salesman that did not get property and wealthy living. Willy also betrayed Linda, treated her badly despite all support and possessions that she made. Thus, both of them did not fully receive everything on this level of Maslow’s theory, and it could be admitted that they are not able to have success on the next.

Belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization are the next level with which Willy and Troy also had difficulties. Such concepts as friendship, family, sexual intimacy, achievement, respect of others and respect by others, morality, creativity, problem solving, acceptance of facts are reached partly or not achieved at all. For example, Troy had friend (Jim Bono), family, but had no society respect, problem solving ability. He did not want to accept  the attitude to the colored people, which existed in the United States at that time. Willy Loman also had family, but he was not respected by people; he could not find a solution of the problems and credits and the only way he saw was death. It has to be admitted that both heroes are tragic. They are connected in many ways: poor position in the society, a lack of understanding, family problems, betrayal, and struggle for wealthy living. Nevertheless, Troy and Willy are different in their habits, behavior models and actions. Additionally, strength that opposes hero is significant and dangerous, that is why conflict with it cannot lead to the happy solution. The reason of such play’s ending had to be found in the character. As usual, hero is guilty of sorrowful ending of events because of his own lack of compromise.

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