In drama, struggles and tensions within the lives of characters and the situations they face are important for the building of the plot and maintaining the attention of the audience. In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and Fences by August Wilson, the main characters of the plays face struggles which move the plot along, while adding anticipation and excitement. Willy and Troy face struggles internally and externally with society. Willy struggles with failing business, while Troy struggles with feelings of being segregated form society. Both men also face conflicts with their marriages and with their relationships with their sons. These struggles are evident throughout the entire play and are enhanced by many examples. Conflicts and tensions within these plays create an effective and stimulating story line.
The characters Willy, from Death of a Salesman and Troy, from Fences, both face struggles with society. Willy is an aging salesman who no longer is able to keep up with the amount of work that is required for him to succeed. Willy says, “I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me” (Miller 1702). Willy is starting to understand that he no longer is mentally and physically able to do his job and people are also starting to realize his weaknesses. Willy tells his wife, Linda, that other men at work laugh at him behind his back. The audience sees Willy’s struggle with his career in the following:
But I gotta be at it ten, twelve hours a day. Other men- I don’t know- they do it easier. I don’t know why- I can’t stop myself- I talk too much. A man oughta come in with few words. One thing about Charley. He’s a man of few words, and they respect him. (Miller 1703)
As seen in this dialogue, Willy believes that he has to work harder than other men in order to stay in business. Willy is struggling with feeling worthless. His whole life has been built around his job and building a financially stable household. Now he struggles to keep a steady income. Willy understands society’s emphasis on the importance of a profitable worker. Linda says, “A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man. He works for a company for thirty-six years this March, opens up unheard-of territories to their trademark, and now in his old age they take his salary away” (Miller 1713). Willy works his whole life with a stable job, which is suddenly jeopardized. Willy struggles internally with feelings of worthlessness because of his job situation. In his interview with the Paris Review, Miller says Willy believes a man who experiences “failure in society and in business has no right to live” (2035). In her work titled Marxism and the Early Plays of Aurther Miller, Helge Nilsen states, “Human beings are sacrificed to economic interests in ways that are not only immoral, but even criminal in nature” (2038). Society places a huge emphasis on a person’s economic status, and Willy begins to struggle with this immensely. Willy falls victim “by the free play of economic forces,” and this is a main conflict theme in the play (Nilsen 2039). In Fences, the character Troy also faces conflict with society. His conflicts are not necessarily based on economic problems, but rather on feelings of injustice brought on by the white race. Troy believes the white man is out to destroy the black man. The audience sees Troy’s attitude toward white men in the following:
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. Now you come telling me he done went and got more tied up in it. He ought to go and get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living. (Wilson 1838)
Troy discourages his son, Cory, from playing football because he thinks sports will not get him anywhere in life. Because of Troy’s past experiences, the white society is out to get him. He thinks white society is against the black people, and that the only way for Cory to be successful is to get a real job. Troy says, ” They got a colored on the team and they don’t use him. Same as not having them. All them teams the same ” (Wilson 1850). Troy feels that society has backed the black community in the corner, giving them little opportunity. Frank Rich agrees when he says, ” social and economic equality is more a legal principle than a reality ” (1991). Troy feels segregated from society with little hope for change. Clearly, Willy and Troy are two men who face struggles with society.
The two characters also face struggles in their marriages. Willy, although loved and respected by his wife, is often times seen being rude to his wife, Linda. These instances seen throughout the play foreshadow a big conflict in his marriage. Biff says, “Stop making excuses for him! He always, always wiped the floor with you. Never had one ounce of respect for you” (Miller 1713). Willy is often short with Linda, and the family recognizes his rudeness to her. Linda seems to put up with Willy, not knowing her husband cheated on her. A very obvious struggle and conflict in the marriage is the fact Willy cheated on Linda with a woman in one of the towns he travels to. Willy tells Biff, “She’s nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely” (Miller 1747). This tells the audience that Willy was unhappy and alone in his marriage to Linda, and that he found someone else to fill the void. In Making Willy Loman, John Lahr states, “Willy resents Linda’s unbroken, patient forgiveness (knowing there must be great hidden hatred for him in her heart” (2044). Clearly, Willy struggles in his marriage with Linda and the guilt involved. Troy Maxson also faces a similar struggle in his marriage to Rose. As seen throughout the play, he is rude and disrespectful to Rose, and the audience later finds out that he, too, has cheated on his wife. In Fences, Troy is seen being rude to Rose when he states, “What you worried about what we getting into for? This is men talk, woman” (Wilson 1836). Troy is completely rude and degrading to Rose and this allows the reader to see into the conflicts of their marriage. Later in the play, the audience discovers Troy has also cheated on his wife, which is the pivotal struggle. Troy says, ” she gives me a different ideaa different understanding about myself. I can step out of this house and get away from them pressures and problems ” (Wilson 1867). Troy is talking about the woman he has gotten pregnant. He expresses the tension he feels in his marriage to Rose and how he feels pressure and problems with her. Frank Rich, in Review of Fences, states Rose has “planted herself in the hard and rocky soil of her husband. But, she never bloomed: marriage brought frustration an betrayal” which tells people that their marriage was indeed frustrated and rocky (1991). Clearly, both Willy and Troy face difficulties in their marriages as seen by how they treat their wives and eventually with ultimate adulterous betrayals.
The two characters also face struggles in their relationships with their sons. Willy is seen throughout the entire play bickering and disrespecting his son, Biff. Willy is angry that Biff has not gotten a real job. Willy says, ” How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? ” (Miller 1691). Biff desires to own a farm and work outside with his hands, but Willy thinks that a farm is not a respectable career choice for his son. Whenever Biff is home, tension rises and Willy becomes angry. The audience sees the tension between the two men in the following:
When you write you’re coming, he’s all smiles, and talks about the future, and -he’s just wonderful. And then the closer you seem to come, the more shaky he gets, and then, by the time you get her, he’s arguing, and he seems angry at you. I think it’s just that maybe he can’t bring himself to- to open up to you. Why are you so hateful to each other? Why is that? (Miller 1712)
Clearly, there is a struggle between the relationship of Willy and his son Biff. In Fences, Troy is also facing struggles with his son, Cory, and for many of the same reasons. Like Willy, Troy feels that his son is lazy and worthless because he does not have a real job. Cory loves football, and his dad will not let him play because of his attitude towards societies outlook on blacks and sports. Troy says, ” The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football no way. 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 something, get you a trade ” (Wilson 1851). Because Troy is bitter about his past, he takes it out on his son. Rich states that Troy’s “bitter, long-ago disappointment leads him to decree a different future for his son” (1991). Clearly, there is a struggle between the men and their sons in these plays.
Obviously, many struggles are present in Death of a Salesman and Fences. First, Willy and Troy face struggles with society. Both men feel segregated from society and do not deal with these feeling very well. Second, Willy and Troy face struggles with their marriages. Both plays show examples of the husbands degrading and disrespecting their wives. Also, the men both commit adultery against their wives during the course of the play. Thirdly, Willy and Troy struggle in their relationships with their sons. Both men criticize their sons choices on a career and constantly argue with them over the subject. Although from two different plays, both men exhibit struggles in the same areas of life. These struggles help develop the plot and move it along with excitement.