What role do women play in Death of a Salesman and Fences? What is the role of women in both plays?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The hard work of remaining grounded in reality, of planning and carrying out practical domestic tasks to keep the household working and functioning, and of coping with the flaws, fancies, and moral failures of the "failed dreamers" (the patriarchs) falls to the wives in these two stories. Rose and Linda mediate between father and son as well. 

Linda and Rose are the primary female figures in these texts, while a mistress is also present in the narrative of each story as well. As the primary female figures, Linda and Rose present a number of similarities. 

[Linda] acknowledges that “Willy is not easy to get along with.” Within the Loman family, Linda is perhaps the most rational person. (eNotes)

(taking the jacket from him) Why don’t you go down to the place tomorrow and tell Howard you’ve simply got to work in New York? You’re too accommodating, dear. (Death of a Salesman)

We might easily substitute Rose's name in the above quotation. She also has to deal with a hard-headed man in Troy, wrapped up in problems stemming from his own psyche (in the form of dreams, failed dreams, grudges, and emotional needs). Rose and Linda function as mediators, between father and son and also between fantasy and reality; between bitterness and acceptance. 

It is Rose who loans money to Lyons, and it is Rose who tries to soften Troy's unconditional control over Cory's life. (eNotes)

ROSE. You ought to stop telling that lie [Troy]. Here, Lyons. (SHE hands him the money.)

LYONS. Thanks, Rose. Look ... I got to run .... (Fences)

Rose and Linda are able to articulate their dreams and goals while fulfilling these other functions. They are not passive, but active and strong and vocal. They are also both put into a position to forgive their husband for infidelity. Neither of them forgives, per se, but instead each continues to move on and maintain the household. 

In these plays, the wives are counterpoints to their husbands' failed dreaming. They are practical and strong and a considerable amount of that strength is called upon to cope with situations created by their husbands' tendencies to favor fantasy over reality. 

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Death of a Salesman

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