Comparison of Troy Maxson and Willy Loman
When one achieves wealth and happiness, they’re considered successful. In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and Fences by August Wilson, both protagonists Willy Loman and Troy Maxson go through many trials and tribulations trying to achieve this wealth and happiness through the American Dream. These trials and tribulations not only allow the reader to identify the characters’ hubris, but also their bitter, inconsiderate personalities. Furthermore, it was not America holding these characters back from reaching the dream, but rather their own bad choices.
Their misfortune turns them into bitter people, undeserving of the reader’s sympathy. At first glance, both Willy Loman and Troy Maxson live such unpleasant lives that would seem almost impossible not to feel sympathetic towards them. They’re both middle-aged family men fighting to better themselves and their families. However, in the lives of both men, pride, insatiable wants, and jealousy lead to their downfall. After careful examination, it becomes clear why they’re undeserving of the reader’s sympathy.
In Death of A Salesman, we’re immediately introduced to Willy Loman, an old salesman who after twenty-odd years on the job admits being burned out. Returning home from his latest trip to Boston, Willy tells his wife Linda that he can’t make any more trips because he’s “tired to death” (Miller 13). Linda responds with, you’re sixty years old. They can’t expect you to keep traveling every week,” and we see that Willy is an overworked, underpaid, salesman struggling to provide for his family (Miller 14). However, it’s not long before we see what caused Willy to reach this state.
Throughout the novel, Willy had a warped view of how to be successful in society. This is illustrated in a flashback where Willy talks about his sons’ friend Bernard; “Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him…Be liked and you will never want” (Miller 33). We later see that the phrase “be liked and you will never want” serves as a mantra for Willy and ultimately causes his current social status.
Willy cared so much about what other people thought of him that nothing else was important, including his ability to sell his products. This mindset dug Willy a hole so deep that it became nearly impossible to get himself out. Within time, Willy is fired and hope is gone. Most people would sympathize with Willy at this point but we can’t overlook the fact that Willy was given multiple opportunities to become better off. His neighbor Charley offered him a job on multiple occasions, one of which directly following Willy’s being fired.
Charley says, “I offered you a job. You can make fifty dollars a week. And I won’t send you on the road” (Miller 96). Though Willy knows he’s a burned out old who can’t travel anymore, he lets his pride stand in the way of creating a better life for himself and his family. Willy was chasing the American Dream and had he took advantage of the opportunities given to him, it would have become more than a dream. Willy made bad decisions. We can’t sympathize with him because the only person responsible for the outcome of those decisions is Willy.
In Fences we’re introduced to a character similar to Willy Loman by the name of Troy Maxson. Now fifty-three, Troy often reminisced on his denied chance to make it big in major-league baseball, based solely on the color of his skin. Of course, this type of prejudice would cause the reader to feel sympathize with Troy. Despite being shot down in his prime, Troy still manages to make a successful living as a garbage man and makes a more than reasonable living for someone of his race during the time period.
However, not so much is it Troy’s behavior towards himself but rather how his persona affects his family that cause the reader to loose sympathy for him. Troy’s wife Rose is devoted, loving, and takes pride in taking care of their entire family. However, Troy decides his life is too dull, dull enough for him to have an affair. Following his admittance of his affair and fathering another woman’s child, Troy tries to explain with this: “…I fooled them Rose. I bunted.
When I found you and Cory and a halfway decent job… I was safe…. Then I saw that gal…. And then I got to thinking that if I tried… I just might be able to steal second… (Wilson 70). ” This explanation ultimately shows the reader that no matter how good his life may be, Troy will never be happy with what he has. While it’s a natural tendency for people to want more, it’s hard to feel bad for someone who already has everything they need. Another deciding factor is Troy’s self-centeredness.
While he says numerous times that he wants nothing more than to better himself, he denies his son Cory that very opportunity. Cory has the skills and a scholarship opportunity to play college football. Troy however, refuses to let him play, saying, “ The white man ain’t gonna let you get no where with that football noway. 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” (Wilson 35).
Troy takes this opportunity from Cory on the grounds that because he himself was not able to make it big, he believes his son shouldn’t either. Furthermore, Rose points out that to Troy that “Times have changed since [he] was young…” and that “People change…. and [Troy] can’t even see it” (Wilson 40). Not only does he ignore that the times have changed since he was young, the reader could infer that jealousy plays a role too. These behaviors that Troy overtly displays, and no attempts to change them, cause the reader to loose all sympathy for Troy.
Neither Willy Loman nor Troy Maxson ever achieved what they planned to in their lives. The American Dream became the shattered glass of the window of opportunity they originally possessed. Neither became the men they wanted to be, however if the two would’ve put their pride aside to better their families, not only would their lives have been less misfortunate, but they would have obtained stronger sympathy from the reader. However, lessons can be learned from both of their lives; cherish what you have and don’t let your pride take over.