August Wilson’s Fences is a play about life, and an extended metaphor Wilson uses to show the crumbling relationships between Troy and Cory and Troy and Rose. Troy Maxson represents the dreams of black America in a majorly white world, a world where these dreams were not possible because of the racism and attitudes that prevailed. Troy Maxson is representative of many blacks and their “attitudes and behavior… within the social flux of the late fifties, in their individual and collective struggles to hew a niche for themselves in the rocky social terrain of postwar America” (Pereria, 37).
Much of the tension in the play comes from Troy Maxson, and his inability to change, his, “refusal to accept the fact that social conditions are changing for the black man” (Pereria, 37). Troy’s wife, Rose, recognizes this early on, saying to him, “Times have changed from when you was young, Troy. People change. The world’s changing around you and you can’t even see it” (Wilson, 40). This inability to change diversely affects Troy’s relationship with his second son, Cory, who is a promising athlete. Sports provide the arena for the continuing conflict and foreshadows the characteristic that will eventually lead to Troy’s downfall.
There is a constant struggle between Troy and Cory because Troy will not allow his son to pursue his athletic dreams, telling him instead to keep his after-school job. This comes from Troy’s past, when he was a promising baseball player who was prevented from playing because he was black. Troy’s fears carry into the new generation when he prevents his son from pursuing a football scholarship because of his past, even though the world was changing at this time, and colored people were expanding into new areas.
Troy admits to Rose that his decision regarding Cory’s future comes from his past when he states, “I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports” (Wilson, 39). Troy, unable to change with the times, is, “convinced of no professional future for black athletes, he is determined to direct his son into a more practical career” (Pereira, 37). The title of the work, Fences, acts as an extended metaphor throughout the play.
Troy builds fences between himself and virtually everyone in the play, isolating himself further and further as he clings to the past and refuses to adapt to a world changing around him. He builds a fence between himself and his friend Bono when he takes a promotion at work, and then puts a fence between he and Rose when he goes outside of the confines of their marriage with Alberta. He also builds a fence between himself and Cory by his refusal to acknowledge his son’s dreams.
As Bogumil states, “By drawing a strict boundary around himself regarding familial relations, Troy loses virtually every sense of affection and bond between himself and his son, causing Cory to conclude that his father does not even like him” (48). When Cory alludes to the question of his father liking him, Troy responds, “…. cause I like you? You about the biggest fool I ever saw. ” He continues with, “You my flesh and blood. Not ’cause I like you! Cause it’s my duty to take care of you. I owe a responsibility to you! (Wilson, 38).
Later in the play, in the end of Act Two, Scene Four, Troy and Cory fight physically, and after Troy tells Cory to leave his house, and Cory says he will return for his things, Troy tells him, “They’ll be on the other side of that fence” (Wilson, 89). Troy has not only put Cory out physically, but has metaphorically put his son on the other side of the fence, away from him. Troy Maxson builds a fence so strong he thought he could keep death himself out. In the end of Act Two, Scene Two he tells Death, “See now…. I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard.
See? I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side… You stay on the other side of that fence until you ready for me (Wilson, 77). There is also the literal fence in the play, which Rose wants Troy to build around their yard. Troy wonders why Rose would want a fence when they have virtually nothing of value to steal. Bogumil believes that, “A fence to Rose has spiritual significance, solace to comfort her during the times she must intervene in the dysfunctional relationship between her son Cory and husband Troy…
(48). The beginning of Act One, Scene Two begins with Rose singing to herself, “Jesus, be a fence around me every day…. ” (Wilson, 21). While Troy is building fences to keep people out, Rose builds a fence to keep them in, as she, “dearly desires to preserve the family she has never had” (Bogumil, 48). Rose herself says to Troy, “… you know I ain’t never wanted no half nothing in my family. My whole family is half….. Can’t hardly tell who’s who (Wilson, 68). Alan Nadel believes that Wilson is making a political statement with the metaphor of a fence.
He sets up his argument with the assertion that. “the idea of a fence is inextricable from the idea of property” (86). He continues in this vein, linking property to humans, linking humans as a form of property to the days of slaveholding. He then says that one of the human ideals of freedom was in ownership; ownership of property. He states that in previous times, “Race or skin color was just such a fence. It served to separate blacks from humans, denying blacks the properties of humans and giving to humans property rights over blacks” (87).
He claims that in the North, “The boundaries were less clear, the fences less sturdy” (87). Nadel believes that legally, the Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave Law decided that property rights were universal while human rights were local. The Mason Dixon line resulted from the Missouri Compromise and was in violation of the fifth amendment. Because of this, Nadel states that, “these laws and decisions mandated that the humanity of blacks be treated as a metaphor, while their non-humanity-their condition as property-be treated as literal” (87).
The fence then, in August Wilson’s Fences, according to Nadel, was the opposing attitudes held towards blacks during these times, that their freedom was, “not literal but figurative” and that. ” The Mason-Dixon line… became the universal metaphoric fence that marked the properties of race as criteria for inhumane treatment” (88). Nadel relates this to Fences by saying that Troy Maxson’s struggle to build a fence around his property, making it human, is really Wilson’s way of showing the internalization of the metaphoric Mason-Dixon line.
He also believes the name Maxson, “suggests a shortened Mason-Dixon” and that Troy’s “character similarly embodies the personal divisions that come from living in a world where the Mason-Dixon line exists as the ubiquitous circumscription of black American claims to civil rights. ” (89). The vital element to keep in mind while reading Fences is that while Troy Maxson is a tragic character who ultimately alienates himself from family and friends because of his inability to adapt with the changing world, he has good intentions and actually believes he is doing the right thing for his family. Peter Wolfe categorizes Troy’s character perfectly when he claims that, “his greatest enemy remains himself” (65).
Responsibility plays a large role in Troy’s beliefs. This is reflected when Cory asks Troy if he likes him. Troy’s response is violent, and heartfelt, when he exclaims, “It’s my job. It’s my responsibility! You understand that? A man got to take care of his family” (Wilson,38). It is important to Troy to instill this sense of responsibility in his sons. When he is speaking to Rose about this outburst he explains, “He’s got to make his own way. I made mine”(Wilson, 39). Troy also wants his sons to have opportunities he did not. He does not want Cory to get his hopes up, and then dashed down as he did when he tried to enter the athletic arena.
Again, he tells this to Rose when he says,”I don’t want him to be like me! I want him to get as far away from my life as he can get” (Wilson, 39). When Bono confronts Troy about his increasing interest in Alberta, Troy defends himself with the words, “I ain’t ducking the responsibility of it” (Wilson, 63). And when he tells Rose of his infidelity he says, “Rose, you ain’t the blame…. I’m responsible for it’ (Wilson, 69). Although Troy does not always do what is right, as Elkins states, “With both his sons, Troy tries to promote responsibility to family over responsibility to personal pursuits” (Elkins, 167).
This is his reasoning for not allowing Cory to try for the football scholarship, for wanting him to keep working at the A&P, as this is his reasoning for offering Lyons a job working with him at the garbage company. Wolfe claims that, “Duty for him always outranks love” (Wolfe, 66). Troy values work more than personal pursuits because his own dream of being a major league baseball player was denied him. He is looking out for the best interests of his children, hoping they do not choose the wrong path as he did, out of genuine care, and a sense of responsibility and duty to his family.
Wilson himself defends Troy’s resolution regarding his decision of not allowing Cory to play football, stating, that, ” When blacks went to universities on athletic scholarships, they were in fact exploited. Very few got an education. Troy is correct when he tells the kid that the white man ain’t gon’ let you get nowhere with that football. As a man born in 1904 and illiterate he’s telling his son to get a job so he won’t have to carry garbage” (Elkins, interview with Wilson, 168). Fences is a masterpiece! An extended metaphor about a black family.
A black family trying to find a place for themselves in the late fifties and early sixties It is a play about Troy Maxson, who builds so many ‘fences’ around himself that he succeeds in alienating himself from everyone he cares about and from the world that is rapidly changing around him. Wilson shows this more specifically by Troy’s disintegrating relationship with his son, Cory, and his wife, Rose. As Bono said, “Some people build fences to keep people out… and other people build fences to keep people in” (Wilson, 61). Troy Maxson built them to isolate himself and to keep out the people he loved the most.
\ Works Cited Bogumil, Mary L. Understanding August Wilson. University of South Carolina Press, Colombia:1999. Elkins, Marilyn. August Wilson: A Casebook. Garland Publishing Inc. , New York: 2000. Nadel, Alan. May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. University of Iowa Press, U. S. :1994. Pereira, Kim. August Wilson and the African American Odyssey. University Of Illinois Press, Chicago:1995. Wilson, August. Fences. Penguin Books U. S. A. Inc. , New York:1986. Wolfe, Peter. August Wilson: Twayne’s United States Authors Series. Ed. Frank Day. Twayne Publishers, New York:1999.
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Topic: Fences: Black People and Wilson
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