Analyzing Death as a Theme and Character in Fences, Act 2 Scene 4-5

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SWBAT analyze Death as a Theme and a Character in Fences by using a Five-Step Process (Statements +Opinions about Death, Evidence of Death in the Characters' Lives, Effect of Death on the Characters, Images of Death, and Symbols of Death)

Big Idea

How does the presence of Death affect the Maxson family? If you ask Troy he would say, "Death ain't nothing!"

Introduction/Standards Alignment

In this unit so far, we looked at Death in physical and figurative ways. First, we considered the meaning of death in a baseball metaphor, "Death ain't nothin' but a fastball on the outside corner." Then, we looked at how August Wilson personified death by giving it human characteristics, "Death stood up, throwed on his robe..." and "Alright, Mr Death..."

Today, we will look at death as a central idea in the play by examining how the concept of death affects the characters in the play (RL.9-10.2) so that my students will be prepared to complete their informational essay about death for homework (W.9-10.2). This task builds on the homework assignment from Lesson #10

This task is  also aligned to RL.9-10.3 because we are analyzing how a complex character (Death) develops over the course of the text, and how it interacts with the other characters in the play to advance the events in the story and to develop as a central idea in the play.

Warmup and Share

15 minutes

For the Warmup, my students and I will look at Troy's statements about death thus far in the play. My students will read each statement made by Troy about death and explain them in their own own words. This task is aligned to RL.9-10.1. since we focused on making inferences and using evidence from the text to support it.

Here are Troy's statements about Death for the Warmup:

1. Page 12:  I wrestled with Death for three days and three nights and I am standing here to tell you about it.

2. Page 53: I don’t know what happened to him (my father). I done lost touch with everybody except Gabriel. But I hope he’s dead. I hope he found some peace.

3. Page 53: When he shot me, I jumped at him with my knife. They told me I killed him and they put me in the penitentiary and locked me up for fifteen years. Fifteen years was a long time for her (Lyon’s mother)  to wait. But that fifteen years cured me of that robbing stuff.

Then, my students will share their explanations and we will discuss labels for each statement using the forms of death we identified in class: PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL and SPIRITUAL. This task is aligned to SL.7.1a and SL.7.1c because students are sharing their opinions, agreeing and disagreeing with their peers and asking questions of their peers.

I am including samples of student work for this task:






25 minutes

Analyzing Death As a Central Idea:

For this part of the lesson, I am introducing an approach to Analyzing Death as a Central Idea in the play. This task is aligned to RL.9-10.2. because we will be analyzing death as a central theme focusing on how it affects the characters throughout the text and discussing our opinions as a class.

To Analyze Death as a Central Idea in the Play, we will consider the following steps::

Step#1. What statements or opinions does Troy make about Death?

Step #2. What has died in the following characters’ lives:

a. Troy:

b. Rose:

c. Cory:

d. Lyons:

e. Gabriel:

f. Alberta:

g. Bono:

h. Raynell:

Step#3. Overall,  how does death affect the characters in the play?

Step#4. Identify the images of death in the play

Step#5. Describe the symbols of death in the play.


After reviewing the steps, we will start completing some of the sections based on what we know so far in the play. This is aligned to W.9-10.10.

I am including a sample of student work for this activity:

Student Handout#1-Page1

Student Handout#1-Page2

Shared Reading and Writing

30 minutes

For this part of the lesson, my students and I will be reading Pages 80-101. We will be primarily focusing on reading twenty one pages of the text. Then, we will be using the evidence (facts and details from our reading) to complete our Handout for Death as a Central Idea in the play. This task is aligned to W.9-10.10 and RL.9-10.1.

This is a sample of student work for this task:

Student Handout#2-Page1

Student Handout#2-Page2


Students will complete an explanatory essay based on death as a central theme explaining how death affects the characters physically and figuratively in the text. This task is aligned to W.9-10.2 and relies on RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.3, and RL.9-10.4 for the literary analysis embedded in the explanation.