Fences Analytical Essay
Fences is a play set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950s that explores themes in the African American experience. The play revolves around Troy, a middle-aged father who struggles to provide for his family. The main character was a baseball player at a time when the industry was becoming integrated. However, integration had not solved all the issues in the sports industry (Headley 13). Characters in the play had to cope with the daily racism all African Americans faced at the time. The play was set prior to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and depicted the African American experience and explored the many reasons why the radical movement was needed. Troy Maxson’s attitude toward work, baseball, responsibility, race, mortality, men and masculinity, among other things, shape his perception of the American identity.
Troy’s perception of the workplace influences his understanding of his place in society in America. In one scene, he states, “You think only white fellows got sense enough to drive a truck. That ain’t no paper job!” (Wilson 4). Here, he remembers his fight with his boss Mr. Rand over a promotion for himself and fellow workers in the sanitation department. Troy believes that black people cannot handle office jobs, even though they are good drivers. This statement demonstrates the level to which racism is entrenched in Troy, and African Americans at large, such that he has internalized racism and can perpetuate it himself.
Troy’s perception of the sports industry reveals his feelings towards white America and racial progress in the nation. In one scene Troy tells his son Cory, “Got that boy…that Puerto Rican boy…Clemente. Don’t even half-play him….” Cory responds, “He gets lots of chances to play” (Wilson 4). Troy assumes that baseball is still racially segregated and players of color do not get any time to play. However, Cory sees Troy’s argument as outdated. Because Troy’s pro-sports career ended prematurely, he believes all non-white players have no chance at making it. Furthermore, Troy says, “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football no way.” (Wilson 5). This statement illustrates that Troy’s personal experiences have made him bitter and he is unable to admit there has been remarkable progress in attaining equality in the sports world. Troy’s perceives America as unable to progress.
Through Troy’s relationship with Cory, the reader and audience come to understand his feelings towards masculinity and manhood in America. Many perceive Fences as a father-son play with the major conflict revolving around the tension between Cory and Troy. The play brings up questions of male responsibilities and the qualities of good men. We eventually hope Cory will break the cycle of conflict (Snodgrass 21). Troy and his family are face many conflicts, but one of the prevailing conflicts is whether a true man should follow his heart or, instead, choose to be dedicated to his family. In this conflict, Troy perceives the American man’s dilemma has having to choose rather than having it all.
Troy’s relationship with his wife Rose further reveals his feelings towards manhood. In one scene, Rose asks Troy, “What you all out here getting into?” (Wilson 5) and Troy responds, “What you worried what we getting into for? This is men talk, woman” (Wilson 5). Troy’s perceptions of male and female roles and responsibilities seem to be outdated. Troy asks Rose to return to the house and allow them to conclude their manly chat. The reader does not know whether Troy is just teasing his wife or he really means what he says. Through his relationship with Rose, the reader further understands his perception of the American woman’s role as submissive and obedient.
In another instance, Troy claims, “That boy walking around here smelling his piss…thinking he’s grown. Thinking he’s gonna do what he wants, irrespective of what I say” (Wilson 6). Wilson portrays an image of a male dog peeing on a bush to mark its territory to illustrate the escalating father-son tension in the quest for household male dominance. The daily racism Troy faced as a black man in America compounded and left him feeling powerless outside of the home. The home is the only place he still has the power to make decisions and he fears losing that dominant position to his son Cory.
Although only two deaths occur in Fences, Troy also ponders mortality extensively. Through Troy’s monologues, the audience learns that on numerous occasions he taunted death. In one instance, Troy even won a wrestling match and saved his own life. Eventually, death takes Troy but the audience can see that he fought against it until the end. In the play, human mortality is perceived both as a dark inevitability and the only path to peace. Troy claims, “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner” (Wilson 7). In this statement, he declares himself fearless in the face of death because he has survived pneumonia before. He further claims, “How you know how long I’m gonna be here, nigger? Hell, I might just live forever” (Wilson). In this scene, Troy brags to Bono that he might be immortal. Troy’s relationship with death reveals his relationship to America: he is fearless in the face of all that he has experienced. Although America has been cruel to him, Troy sees himself as resilient and unbreakable.
Finally, duty plays a prominent theme in Troy’s understanding of America. Troy believes that a father’s duty is to provide food and shelter. He does not believe he must show love to his son or remain loyal to his wife, as long as they have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Troy does not see a problem with cheating on his wife; he sees his primary duty as providing for her: “I don’t know why Lyon don’t go and get him a decent job and take care of that woman he got” (Wilson 7). In this statement, Troy believes that it is the duty of the man to cater for his woman and thinks it is disgraceful that Lyon depends on Bonnie for his livelihood. This is the utmost failure of fulfilling manly duties. Troy also tells Cory, “You live in my house…sleep you behind on my clothes…fill you belly up with my food…cause you my son. You my flesh and blood. Not cause I like you! Cause it’s my duty to take care of you” (Wilson). In this statement, Troy implies that his duty as a husband and father ends at providing life’s necessities and not showing love to his son. Troy’s relationships are based on obligation, much like his relationship to America. He may not like what America has done to him, but he still has duties to uphold as a citizen.
Troy’s experiences in the workplace, in his personal relationships and conflict, outline his understanding of America. As a black man surviving in a very difficult time, when opportunities were stripped from him and he was made to feel powerless, he tried to do what he thought was best for his family. The audience is given small insight into the Black American experience prior to the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of an angry, hardened man. Although Troy made the lives of the people he loved difficult, he was only treating them the way America treated him.
Headley, Otivia. “Fences” by August Wilson. A Reflective Essay on Conflict, Family, and Family Therapy. GRIN Publishing, 2016.
Snodgrass, Mary E. August Wilson: A Literary Companion. McFarland & Co, 2004.
Wilson, August. Fences: A Play. Penguin Radom House LLC, 2016.
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