Fences by August Wilson and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, are both plays in which the authors explore and relate the African American experience in the United States. It was the first play that appeared on Broadway that was written by a black woman. Fences follows the Manxson family before the Civil Rights movement. Each character within the play is bound by obstacles which prevent them from being truly free. Similarly, A Raisin in the Sun is a play that centers around a poor black family, The Youngers.
The family members waver between cruel reality and daydreaming about the future. Each play offers a powerful character study about the effects of discrimination and racism on the human soul, and the buoyancy of the human spirit. Restriction of the body by chains was a common experience of slaves during the1800s. However, as slavery waned these chains did not stop they just became invisible. These invisible boundaries created by segregation lead to the poverty and struggle that man African American families had to deal with before the Civil Rights movement and after.
In A Raisin in the Sun and Fences it is physical location and restriction which inspires emotional growth and change. The physical separation of the races is the basis for both plays and represents a societal fence which keeps some people in society and some people out. It was a common practice in the American South until the late 1960s to have separate race facilities for washrooms, theaters, schools, neighborhoods, and subsequently limited professions. Segregated schools offered notoriously poor education because the schools for African Americans were not well funded.
Lack of a solid primary education left very little hope of having the qualifications to attend university, and even if students were qualified the positions available were limited. Black Colleges were scarce and other higher learning institutions that were integrated worked on a quota system for the admittance of black students. Inadequate education coupled with the societal limits of what jobs for blacks were acceptable or not, African Americans struggled to make career advancements past blue collar and domestic help positions (Polednak 45).
This left the bulk of the black population in America below the poverty line and just barely surviving. Discrimination and segregation by the white community was a major factor in not only causing the poverty suffered by minorities in the 20th century but also maintaining that race related poverty into the 21st century. While segregation is not a visible ‘fence’ it is certainly restrains the ability of minorities to seek out the same opportunities as others. Through the restriction of location, minorities are often left to struggle without their basic needs being meant and wither like a raisin the sun.
To Rose, who nags Troy about completing this wooden border, the fence promises to keep in those whom she loves, preventing them from leaving the fortress she so lovingly sustains for them. Feffer explains “to Cory, however, the fence becomes a tangible symbol of all that stands in the way of his independence” (332). His work on it is merely an exercise in obedience and a reminder that he is not yet a man–at least not to Troy. For Troy, the “fence represents added restrictions placed upon him” (Feffer 332).
Thus he half-heartedly erects one section of the fence at a time and completes the job only after accepting a challenge from Bono, who agrees to buy his wife, Lucille, a refrigerator as soon as Troy completes the fence. It takes Bono to explain to him the importance of the fence (Shannon 1): CORY: I don’t know why Mama want a fence around the yard noways. TROY: Damn if I know either. What the hell she keeping out with it? She ain’t got nothing nobody want. BONO: Some people build fences to keep people out… and other people build fences to keep people in.
Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you. (61) Shannon asserts, On a deeper level, “Troy sees the fence’s completion as a reminder of his own mortality; he senses that he is erecting his own monument” (Shannon 1). His anxiety about death’s inevitability emerges when his longtime friend questions Troy’s choice of wood: BONO: You don’t need this wood [hard wood]. You can put it up with pine wood and it’ll stand as long as you gonna be here looking at it. TROY: How you know how long I’m gonna be here, nigger?
Hell, I might just live forever. Live longer than old man Horsely. (60) In Fences, the Manxson’s Family struggles are created by where they physically live. The family lives in an industrial area of a city. This is because the cost of living is cheaper and the jobs offered here are almost exclusively offered to African Americans. Troy is only able to find work as a minimum wage worker. While unhappy, Troy is forced, by his situation and specifically his location, to work a job that gives him very little money and very long hours.
“Although recognizing that Wilson’s is a male-centered universe, Elam seeks a more complex understanding of how the actions of these women critique gender and racist ideology and the central role they play in Wilson’s dramaturgical or historical project. ” (Black). Troy is also restricted his past. Troy has been in trouble with the law and his record keeps him from jobs he is capable of doing. His criminal past also prevents him from living in place that is safer for his family. Troy wants to change and attempts again and again (Shannon 8).
However, in the end he fails. Troy comes to realization that while there are things he can not change, like where he lives, he must learn to be happy and content with what he does have. Similarly, In A Raisin in the Sun, The Younger Family is restricted by their physical location. The jobs, money, and living situations are all determined by where they live. The Younger’s frustration with segregation and the poverty which it causes is the single determining factor in each family member’s decisions and dreams.
Many of the problems the Younger’s suffer through are caused by segregation. The actual attention given to the topic in the play is minimal but the consequences drive the plot. Walter, the oldest son, is married and has a child. He works for a white family as a chauffer. Being a chauffer is one of the only jobs that is available to young black men. He takes the job because his family needs the money (Abell). His mother assures him that it is a good job but understands that he has been “forced to function as a white man’s servant. ” (Domina 10).
His family shares a small apartment with his mother and sister, Beneatha. Walter, like Troy, laments about his discontent of his current living situation and the need to provide better for his family. He states “I got a boy who sleeps in the living room and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live” (34). Walter often seems like he has given up on his dreams. He wants badly to be an independent man and own a business. Walter also wants to be able to send his son to college and hopes that someday he will be able to “hand him the world! ” (109).
Walter’s discontent with poverty and his dream of becoming a successful businessman is the reason that Mama gives some of the insurance money to him. Rose, in Fences, chooses to marry Troy because he is the best man that she has physical access too. Rose loves him even though he has a criminal passed, failed at his baseball career, and has affairs. Her choice is not necessarily based on love but what men are readily available (Black). Rose has chosen life with Troy as an alternative to “a succession of abusive men and their babies, a life of partying, or the Church.
” The limitations on Rose are physical and she is clearly restricted by location in her choice of man, family, house, and job. The is a common condition of African American women. The same is true of Mama, A Raisin in the Sun, she has struggled greatly in life, giving up her own wants for those of her family and has always been restricted by her physical location. Even now, after her children are grown, and the her husband has passed, she stills worries about the effects of poverty and discrimination have had on her children’s outlook on life. Poverty has deeply wounded Mama but she works hard to make the best of her situation.
Mama remembers when they first moved into the apartment, it was supposed to only be temporary. Williams asserts that “she spent her whole married life living there. Her husband and herself had never been able to save the money to buy a house with a yard big enough for a garden” (101). Unfortunately, her husband had to die for her to be able to make her dream of owning a home come true. She wants something better for her family and decides things must change. Her decision to spend her husband’s insurance money and her dream of owning a house are driven forcefully by her poverty stricken past.
Mama also chooses to buy a house in a white neighborhood. While she might never admit it out loud, this is certainly a her own way of ‘putting it to the man’ for the years of washing their floors and adhering to their societal rules. Wilson and Hansberry, in their plays, assert that is often the physical location of individuals which determine their lot in life and also inspire change. Although some readers interpret the conclusions to A Raisin in the Sun and Fences as unequivocally positive, there is reason to believe that both families lives will be tense, even dangerous.
Each short story has a central image which has to do with location and restriction. The main image in A Raisin in the Sun, is that of a grape writhing because of its exposure to the sunlight and lack of basic needs. The main image in Fences, is the literal image of a fence which is put in place around where the family lives. They are clearly unwelcome, and they have been warned to stay away. Given the context of contemporaneous U. S. historical events, they may have to tolerate racial slurs, vandalism to their property, even personal violence.
As the play ends, Walter and Troy realize that in the face of injustice–even injustice supported by much of his culture–they is capable of fighting back. Works Cited Abell, Joy L. “African/American: Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs and the American Civil Rights Movement. ” African American Review 35. 3 (2001): 459. Black, Cheryl. “The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. ” Theatre History Studies (2005): 198+. Domina, Lynn. Understanding a Raisin in the Sun A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Feffer, Steve. “Harry J. Elam, Jr. the Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. ” Comparative Drama 38. 2-3 (2004): 332+ Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. reprint edition ed. New York: Vintage, 2004. Shannon, Sandra G. The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1995. Polednak, Anthony P. Segregation, Poverty, and Mortality in Urban African Americans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Williams, Dana A. Contemporary African American Female Playwrights: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
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