Analyzing the Role of Death in Fences Act 2, Scene 2-3

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SWBAT analyze how the character Death influences Troy by completing a close reading to identify figurative elements (personification and symbolism).

Big Idea

How does death affect Troy both figuratively and physically?

Introduction/Standards Alignment

In the Fences unit so far, we looked at Death from many angles. In Lesson #5, we considered the meaning of death in a baseball metaphor, "Death ain't nothin' but a fastball on the outside corner." And also in Lesson #5, we looked at how August Wilson personified death by giving it human characteristics, "Death stood up, throwed on his robe..."

Today, we will look at how death affects the characters in a physical and a figurative way focusing on the ways in which the characters die throughout the play.  Death is mentioned throughout the play. In fact, our protagonist, Troy Maxson, speaks of conquering Death and not being afraid of it. Since he eventually faces Death and dies, it is important for us to closely observe how August Wilson develops Death in the text.

Today's lesson is the first of two lessons that will prepare my students to complete an informational essay for homework based on the meanings of death in the play. The informational essay task is aligned to W.9-10.2.

Warmup + Share

15 minutes

For this part of the lesson, the Warmup, my students and I will be looking at an excerpt from the play when Troy speaks to Death. in this excerpt, Troy is alone on stage and he is making a deal with Death. My students will individually read the excerpt on Page 77 of the text and answer the questions:

1. Describe the way Troy speaks to Death. What type of figurative language is he using in his speech. Cite evidence from the text to support your point. (RL.9-10.1 and RL.9-10.4)

2. Why does Troy want to build a fence around the yard? (RL.9-10.10)

3. Will Troy be able to accomplish his goal? Why? Why not? Explain (RL.9-10.10)

I chose this scene even though we didn't read it yet because I wanted to see how my students would handle encountering new text that we have not discussed before and interpreting it based on the discussions we had in class so far, and I wanted them to be able to make predictions about what may happen to Troy based on the deal he is negotiating with Death. I am having my students identify examples of figurative language because I want them to see the tools the writer (August Wilson) is using to develop the character of Death in the text (W.9-10.10)

Then, my students will share their answers with their peers. This is aligned to SL.7.1a and SL.7.1c because my students will be listening to their peers' analysis of the text, and they will be discussing the scene by agreeing or disagreeing with their peers or asking questions about the ideas shared by their peers. 

I am including samples of student work for this task: Student#1 and Student#2



15 minutes

Questioning About Death:

In this part of the lesson, my students and I will be connecting with our prior knowledge about death and using this information to identify the types of death the characters experience in the play

I start this discussion by asking my students the following question: After Troy tells Rose that his mistress Alberta is pregnant and he is not going to stop seeing her, what do you think will happen to their relationship?

As my students share their responses, I will ask them to look at the ending of Troy's relationship with Rose as a type of death and to tell me in what way is the ending of their relationship like a death.

After my students share their thoughts, I ask them to consider the following question, "In what ways do people die each day?" They will take a few minutes to think about the question and record their thought on a chart paper at the front of the room using sharpies. After my students share their thoughts, as a class we will give labels to the types of death. using categories such as physical death, emotional and spiritual death (SL.9-10.1).

I ask my students "In what ways do people die each day?" as a probing question after asking some general questions about death in the text, because my students need to have a recollection of our related discussion prior to establishing global or overarching questions that require deeper thought.  Some schools of thought would have used the global question to start the discussion, but in my case it would have left blank stares on my students' faces and I want them to feel as if they have something to contribute to our brainstorming about death.

This is the result of the brainstorming about death.  

After we identify the types of death, I will review our definitions for personification and symbol (L.9-10.6). Then, I will ask my students to explain the personification of death and the symbolic meaning of death in the play so far (RL.9-10.4).

I am including samples of student work: Student#1 and Student#2.

Shared Reading and Writing

30 minutes

For this part of the lesson, my students and I will be reading a section of text (Pages 73-79) and we will be looking for examples of physical and figurative meanings of death. We will record our findings on the graphic organizer for physical and figurative examples of death. As we read, we will be asking ourselves, What examples of physical death do I see in the text? and What examples of figurative death do I see in the text?

We are focusing on the physical and figurative examples of death in this part of the lesson because we want to apply the results of our brainstorming about the types of death  to the characters in Fences (RL.9-10.3).

We may re-visit previous sections of text during this reading (Pages 9-12) to ensure that my students understand the references to Death in the text and how Death affects the characters. 

I am including samples of student work for this task: Student#1 and Student#2.


For homework, my students will be using the results of their search for the physical and figurative examples of death to write an explanatory paragraph about death. This task is aligned to W.9-10.2.

I am including samples of student work for this task: