In 1987, August Wilson’s “Fences” was a part of his Pittsburg Cycle of dramas of the 20th Century. These plays were used to “examine important elements of African American experiences” (Gardner 1331). The symbolisms in the play are used to tell the late life story of Troy Maxon and his relationship with family. From the start of the play, there is conflict and foreshadowing that shows Troy’s own belief that he has failed in life and that the world did not give him what he deserved. He believes that he has to venture outside of his family to find relief.
At the start of the play, Wilson takes the audience into the seemingly happy life of Troy Maxon. The author then makes it clear that he felt like a failure and was not happy. The first symbol that is seen is the difference between the white people and the black people. Troy takes a stand and asks why black people never get to drive the trash trucks. Most of his coworkers believe that he will be fired. This theme of not being appreciated and believing that something is not enough is seen through all the symbols used in this drama. A second symbol seen is sports and dreams of the future.
Troy had been in the Negro League and played baseball until he was over 40 years old. The problem presents itself when Troy is overlooked by the recently desegregated professional baseball league because of his age. His dreams of playing for the professional white league were smashed, and he believed that he had nothing to show his worth in the later years. This defeat in his career also defeated Troy mentally. From then on, he saw his family and his life as a failure that he wanted to escape from, yet he could not shake the feeling of responsibility to them. Troy’s first son, Lyons, is accepted by Troy.
Lyons is a failure in Troy’s eyes and so Troy believes that Cory is no better than him. Lyons wants to be a musician, but he is not very successful. Troy sees Lyons failure in music career to be equivalent to his failure to get into the professional league. He believes that his son will eventually take an unskilled job and end up just like his father. In the last scene of the play it is revealed that Lyons did end up defeated, but not to the extent of his father. His love of music still lived and he was still pursuing his dream. Unlike his son Lyon, Troy’s feeling of failure is evident in his relationship with his son, Cory.
Cory is an excellent football player, and yet, Troy refuses to acknowledge his son’s ability even when he is recruited by a college. Troy will not let Cory succeed where he failed and refuses to let Cory go to college on a football scholarship. In Act 1, Scene 3, Cory asks Troy “How come you ain’t never liked me? ” (Wilson 1075). Troy is angry at this question and tells Cory that “…it’s my duty to take care of you. I owe a responsibility to you! ” (Wilson 1076). However, even before this it is obvious that Troy sees Cory as nothing but an annoyance that continues until the final scene, when Cory arrives for Troy’s funeral.
Troy’s relationship with his wife Rose is an unfaithful one. He is constantly stating that there is no better woman or wife, yet he has an affair with Alberta. Through this diversity, Rose is eventually presented as a model of the strong African American woman. She has given her life to Troy, and yet he has an affair with Alberta. He explains the affair as a way to ignore the responsibilities of his failed life. This aggravates Rose because he has never taken her feelings, wants or needs into consideration. Troy continues to be married to Rose, but also continues his affair with Alberta while Rose knows about the whole thing.
Rose even accepts the call from the hospital when Alberta dies while giving birth. The full strength of Rose is not shown until Troy brings home his love child. He asks Rose to help him raise her. Rose’s response shows the intensity of her strength. She says, “From right now…this child got a mother. But you is a womanless man” (Wilson 1099). Rose makes it apparent that this child will have as good a life as Rose can give her and she will show no animosity or jealousy towards the child. Troy, on the other hand, will have the responsibility of the child, Rose, Lyons, and Cory while receiving nothing in return.
Throughout all these trials, the fence is essential in the explanation of Troy’s life. Rose had requested the fence, and it symbolized her family being held together. The fact that Troy never really worked on the fence showed that he was not in love with Rose, but felt a responsibility to her. He wanted his freedom and the fence symbolized his imprisonment. The symbol of the fence throughout this play connects everything back to the fact that Troy Maxon was unhappy with his life, and felt as if he were a failure. He felt no real responsibility to Lyons, hence their relationship was better.
Troy was jealous of Cory and reminded of his failures by Rose. Wilson used the fence to tell this story. It was not just a story of a life seen as a failure, but a look into the mind and thoughts of an African American man of the 1950s. Works Cited Wilson, August. Fences. Literature: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Janet E. Gardner, 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2012. 1053-1111. Print. Gardner, Janet, Beverly Lawn, Jack Ridl, Peter Schakel, eds. Literature: A Portable Anthology. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. Print.
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