Using Aristotle’s descriptions of Tragedy, I classify Fences by August Wilson as a tragic play. The elements of tragedy, Troy Maxson as a tragic hero, and tragic plot were evident throughout the play. Also, the feeling of catharsis at the end-which is proper of tragedy, was clearly identifiable.
I. Fences fits into the tragic genre based on the points given by Aristotle. In Poetics, he defines tragedy as “the imitation of an action that is serious and also as having magnitude, complete in itself.” • Aristotle’s idea is that the plot has a beginning middle and end and all parts follow each other in concise fashion. o In the beginning, the hero is a garbage man, who previously was given a chance to participate in professional baseball, becomes the first black to drive a garbage truck, is loved by his wife, looked up to by his friend, Bono and receives demanded respect from his sons Lyons and Cory. o In the middle, the hero confesses to his wife that he is going to be a daddy to another woman’s child.
He struggles with his son Cory and ultimately loses the love and respect of his family. He needs to ask Rose to help him raise his baby and be her mama. He also admits to the infant that he is scared. Act II Scene 3 p. 73 “And right now your daddy’s scared cause we sitting out here and ain’t got no home.” o In the end, the hero dies. By then a lonely man who is no longer respected by his family nor has the admiration of his friend. Troy’s believes fate is his downfall. He thinks the color of his skin is the decisive factor in the workplace, the playing field and the street. (Pereira 42) • A complex plot includes reversal and recognition.
o Troy is happy and stress free when with Alberta. Even when he tells Rose, she continues to stay with him until later when she issues an ultimatum. Act II Scene 1 pg. 66 “…I’m responsible for it. I locked myself into a pattern trying to take care of you all that I forgot about myself.” His belief of providing for his family and his refusal to accept that other people had ideas and times were changing kept him stagnant in life. o Alberta then dies during childbirth. Troy sees how he has lost everything and challenges death to stay away until it is ready to take him.
II. Using Aristotle’s description of a tragic hero in Poetics, Troy Maxson, the main character in August Wilson’s play, Fences, is an example of a tragic hero. •Aristotle describes a tragic hero to be a “man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty”. This means the hero need not be perfect nor a villain, but basically good and decent. His downfall usually results from a tragic flaw or error in judgment, not due to wickedness. • In Chapter 15 of Poetics, Aristotle says “the character will be good if the purpose is good”. o Troy’s intentions for his family are good. He provides a paycheck to his family, handing the money over to Rose each Friday, he wants Lyons to get his own job and support his wife and stay out of trouble, and he wants Cory to be educated and find a good job to support himself. o Act 1 Scene 3 pg. 39-40 “…It’s my job. It’s my responsibility! You understand that? A man got to take care of his family.
You live in my house…sleep you behind on my bedclothes…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…” • Aristotle says “the second thing to aim at is propriety”. o In the book, August Wilson, The African-American Odyssey, Kim Pereira says “ Troy becomes a slave to bitterness which stunts the development of his full potential as a father, husband and friend. “ o Troy’s believes responsibility is the greatest virtue and his aim is to be a provider for his family. While Troy’s behavior is dominating and unaffectionate, his aim is to be the provider of his family and to make sure that they do not suffer the injustices he did. o “If a hero is one who goes into a battle that he may or may not win, Troy Maxson possesses, in full measure, the …warrior spirit…he wants complete satisfaction or nothing at all.
The promise of change is empty; he cares only about change itself…The so-called realities of the social world around him matter little, for he dances to an internal rhythm, answering a call for self-authentication that springs from a cultural, even cosmological, dimension.” (Pereira 38) • Aristotle then says in his descriptions, “Thirdly, character must be true to life: for this is a distinct thing from goodness and propriety, as here described.” oTroy fits a character who would have lived in the 1950’s, having experienced discrimination, an abusive father and a changing society towards African-Americans in that period. o Troy says in Act 1, Scene 3 pg. 37 “…The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway.”
Troy’s beliefs ran true to his experiences all through the play. • The last characteristic of a tragic hero is that he must be consistent. o Troy was consistent in his belief that the black man could not get ahead in America. o He behaved and learned from the examples given by his own father. o “The events of almost a century had underscored the distinction between de jure and de facto. Legally, blacks had been free for ninety four years, but practically they had little or no access to any of the benefits that ordinary citizens take for granted-recourse to the law, equal employment opportunitites, education.” (Pereira 36)
III. Troy’s tragic flaw is in trying to protect his family and discover himself in the process. His frailty is colored by his experience with racism (especially in professional sports) and his inability to accept that times are changing. • Troy says Cory should make his own way in the world, but it is he who won’t let him take a chance. •Troy’s desire to prevent his son succumbing to the same outcome in sports ends with Troy trapping him into the same lifestyle by not allowing him to grow and refusing to believe that times have changed. o “I don’t want him to be like me!
I want him as far away from my life as he can get…..I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports” (39 Fences). • Troy’s excuse for betraying Rose is because he has been standing on first base for ever. He doesn’t relate this to anyone else in his family who have stood right behind him. • “Troy has inherited the legacy of fear of emotional commitment…Troy has never learned to receive and give true love” (Monaco)
IV. “Despite his flaws, or, perhaps, because of them, he taught his family how to “take the straights with the crooked”; to recognize and play to their strengths; “not to make the same mistakes…to take life as it comes along and keep putting one foot in front of the other.” As all of them move toward their individual destinies, they have a surer sense of who they are and a greater instinct for survival because of Troy Maxson.” (Monaco) • “Like his father, Cory believes that denying his father is the “way to get rid of that shadow” (Fences 89). o When Cory decides to go to the funeral, he has come to accept his father’s faults and looked to the man himself.
Singing the song of Blue with Raynell…..Cory demonstrates that he can embrace the song of his father without becoming his father. (Monaco) • “…Wilson shows that it is only through the willingness to face and accept the forces of the past that the protagonists will be given hope, power, and ultimately, deliverance.”(Monaco) • Troy is contained by death while the others are able to move on in their lives. o Cory has joined the Marines and is getting married, Rose is involved with church and raising Raynell, Gabriel is in the hospital, Bono is happily married to Lucille and Raynell has a family. Troy is contained by death.
The play Fences definitely fits Aristotle’s description of Tragedy. Troy Maxson was a tragic hero, although he gave us reasons to believe he was not worthy of this title. In the end, his lessons and actions are what spurred his family into survival and healing and gave them a positive outlook and the ability to move forward in the changing future ahead of them.