Table of contents
August Wilson's "Fences" and Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" are two iconic plays that delve into the complexities of human relationships, aspirations, and the pursuit of the American Dream. This essay offers a comparative analysis of these two works, highlighting the similarities and differences in their portrayal of familial struggles and the impact of shattered dreams on the characters.
Familial Struggles and Father-Son Relationships
Both "Fences" and "Death of a Salesman" examine the intricate dynamics within families, particularly focusing on the relationships between fathers and sons. In "Fences," Troy Maxson's strained relationship with his son, Cory, reflects themes of generational conflicts, racial tensions, and the struggle for personal identity. Similarly, in "Death of a Salesman," Willy Loman's strained relationship with his sons, Biff and Happy, showcases the disconnect between dreams and reality, as well as the emotional toll of unfulfilled expectations.
While Troy's harshness and bitterness stem from his own experiences of racial injustice, Willy's desperation to see his sons succeed is fueled by his own thwarted dreams. The plays' exploration of these father-son dynamics highlights the complexities of intergenerational relationships and the challenges of reconciling personal ambitions with familial expectations.
Dreams and the Illusion of Success
Both plays center around characters who harbor dreams of achieving a better life, albeit with varying degrees of success. In "Fences," Troy's desire to provide for his family and achieve his own version of success is thwarted by societal limitations and personal mistakes. He projects his own failures onto his son, Cory, striving to prevent him from facing similar disappointments. This illustrates the impact of societal barriers on personal dreams.
Similarly, in "Death of a Salesman," Willy's relentless pursuit of the American Dream leads to his delusion and downfall. His obsession with the image of success blinds him to the realities of his own life, and his sons' disillusionment stems from his inability to reconcile his dreams with his actual circumstances. The plays thus underline the destructive potential of an unattainable dream and the toll it takes on both individuals and families.
Cultural Context and Themes
Although "Fences" and "Death of a Salesman" are set in different time periods and cultural contexts, they both address universal themes that resonate with audiences across generations. "Fences" explores themes of race, family, and identity against the backdrop of the 1950s, reflecting the struggles of African Americans during that era. "Death of a Salesman," set in the mid-20th century, delves into the broader issues of capitalism, success, and the erosion of the American Dream.
Both plays serve as social commentaries, shedding light on the societal forces that shape individuals' lives and aspirations. While "Fences" confronts racial barriers and the complexities of self-identity, "Death of a Salesman" critiques the dehumanizing effects of a consumerist society on human relationships and mental well-being.
Conclusion: Reflections on Dreams and Struggles
The comparative analysis of "Fences" and "Death of a Salesman" reveals their shared exploration of familial struggles and shattered dreams. The father-son relationships, dreams, and societal critiques depicted in both plays offer a poignant commentary on the human condition and the challenges of navigating personal aspirations in the face of external pressures.
While "Fences" delves into the unique struggles of African American families in the mid-20th century, "Death of a Salesman" presents a more universal critique of the corrosive effects of unrealistic dreams and societal expectations. Together, these two plays remind us of the importance of understanding and empathizing with the struggles of individuals and families as they grapple with the pursuit of dreams and the complexities of life.
Miller, Arthur. (1949). Death of a Salesman. Penguin Classics.
Wilson, August. (1986). Fences. Plume.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below