Death of a Salesman and Fences – Comparison of Characters

Death of a Salesman and Fences – Comparison of Characters
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This essay would come out with a comparison of the central characters of the two plays: “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller and “Fences”, which was penned down by August Wilson. For this purpose, as and when needed, direct quotes from the plays would also be relied upon.


Perhaps, when comparing the primary characters of both the plays, the most striking aspect that one notices is the similarity between the father characters. There indeed is a highly valid reason for stating so. In both the plays, these characters, Willy in “Death of a Salesman” and Troy of “Fences” have negative shades, for they not just are obsessed with the past at the cost of neglecting the present, but they (father characters) also share a highly hostile relationship with their respective sons. It is not just that; both Willy and Troy denote as being impediments in terms of the goals of their sons. (1)

In fact, in “Death of a Salesman” Willy’s obsession with the past is so high that he reaches the stage where, he is unable to draw a line between reality and fantasy. Perhaps, the most prominent common feature of the characters (of fathers) is that, both do not have a respectable position in the society. (1)

After that, it indeed would be worthwhile in having a look at the characters of sons: Biff in “Death of a Salesman” and Cory in “Fences”. As mentioned earlier, both Biff and Cory are the victims of the day-dreaming of their respective fathers. It also has to be noted that, solely because of the false approach adopted by Willy and Troy, even Biff and Cory have been subjected to severe mental conflict. As a matter of fact, Biff is redeemed of this mental turmoil only after he musters the needed courage to rebel against Willy’s dominant approach. However, it is observed that, notwithstanding all the unpleasant experiences, Biff still has a soft corner for his father. This is evident from the words that he speaks at the funeral of his father “there were a lot of nice days”. Also, Biff adds that the intentions of Willy were good, and it is just that the dreams were erroneous. (1)

When the play “Fences” is taken, the unpleasant relationship shared by Cory with his father is clear by the words spoken by the former “You aint never gave me nothing! You aint never done nothing but hold me back. Afraid I was gonna be better than you. All you ever did was try and make me scared of you.” Cory is aware that, apart from creating fear in his mind, Troy has done nothing else for him! Despite the fact that Cory has lot of talent for playing baseball, Troy never permits him to make a mark for himself in this game. And similar to “Death of a Salesman” even in “Fences” the son gets his total freedom only after his father’s death. (1)

When the characters of the sons are considered in both the plays, one surely notes a key difference. In the play “Death of a Salesman” Biff thinks about his father in a positive manner, after the latter’s death. But when “Fences” is considered, Cory expresses no such sentiments. On the contrary, it is seen that he is highly reluctant to even attend the funeral. Owing to these points, it can conveniently be inferred that, when both Willy and Troy are compared, it is only the former who is having at least a few positives. That is why his son was able to pay respects at the funeral. On the other hand, Cory has nothing but utter dislike for his father. (1)

Now, the focus needs to shift on to examining the characters of Linda, wife of Willy, and Rose, the spouse of Troy. To begin with, it has to be stated that Willy and Troy do not have a sound relationship not only with the sons, but also with their respective spouses. Also, both of them (Willy and Troy) indulge in adultery. In “Death of a Salesman” though Linda is unaware about the extra-marital affair of her husband, yet; his adulterous acts tell upon their relationship. This can be understood by an example. When Willy sees that his wife is repairing the same kind of stockings that he gifted to his mistress, he is bogged down by a feeling of guilt and says “Will you stop mending stockings? At least while I am in the house. It gets me nervous. I can’t tell you.” (1)
In “Fences”, Troy confesses about his infidelity to Rose. Though initially she is devastated by this revelation, she still accepts the child born out of this adulterous relation. This speaks volumes of her generosity. But she conveys to Troy in no uncertain terms that he has lost her as a wife, as is evident by her words “This child got a mother. But you a womanless man.”

The difference in characters

In both the plays, there are tormentors and also the sufferers. In “Death of a Salesman” Willy obviously is the tormentor, while his wife Linda and Son Biff are the sufferers. Likewise, when “Fences” is considered, Rose and Cory have been at the receiving end of the misdeeds and wrongful approach of Troy. There is no hesitation in saying that Willy and Troy pertain to the same category, whereas; Linda, Biff, Rose and Cory are the positive characters subjected to several hardships. As a matter of fact, it is not an exaggeration in stating that in these two plays, the negatives of the negative persons just go on to enhance the positives of the positive individuals. (1)


A fully comprehensive comparison of characters of both these plays is just not possible in a small write-up such as this one. Yet, a sincere attempt has been made to cover the most salient of all the points.

1) “Similar Symbolic Elements in DEATH OF A SALESMAN and FENCES”,, Internet, Universal Journal, 2009.