What does death symbolize in Fences?
Early in the play, Troy tells a story about defeating death and says,
Death ain't nothing but a fastball on the outside corner.
Troy tries to diminish death, the symbol of life's limits, as a way to assert his power and courage. Troy has lived a circumscribed life, hemmed in and threatened by institutional racism, and his answer has been to be defiant. He envisions death as a person, an antagonist he can fight, both by using his superior physical strength and his trickster qualities of evasion.
Troy describes death as a man in
a white robe with a hood on it. He throwed on that robe and went off to look for his sickle. Say, "I'll be back."
By picturing death as a mortal man and Ku Klux Klansman in his hooded white robe, Troy is able to reduce the abstract but very real limitations on his life to something concrete he can wrestle with and defeat. This fight with a personified death energizes Troy, who has been abused, damaged, and beaten down.
Physical death for Troy defeats the personified death that is out to get him in life. The play ends with the thought that Troy achieves peace in death, entering into the pearly gates of heaven, thus winning out over what death has tried to do to him.