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The Unfinished Fence as a Symbol of a Family Falling Apart Essay

August Wilson’s play entitled Fences is a play that chronicles the life of a poverty-driven black family of Troy Maxson in the South. It is emphasized that this family has battled with racism all their lives. For instance, Troy, the father of the family, has fought for his life amidst pressures and oppression from the white establishment for nearly fifty-three years. At the same time, he has also fought to uphold the lessons that he learned all for his family especially his son Cory who like himself is into sports.

He recalled that when he was young, he was not given an opportunity to make a living out of baseball because it was a white man’s world. In the words of Troy: “I told that boy about that football stuff. The white man ain’t gonna let him get nowhere with that football (Wilson 1487)”. His concern was legitimate and sincere because he knew and learned from experience that that’s the way of all earth. However, even with this, he still failed the same thing as he was unable to finish the fence that his wife has always been pushing him to do.

Wilson does have a purpose in naming the play Fences than just emphasizing the building of the fence in the backyard of the family as the main action in the play. It symbolizes Troy’s failure to protect his family from the ills of a racist community. As Bono remarks in the pay, “Some people build fences to keep people out, others to keep people in (Wilson 182)”, Troy’s character is interpreted as someone who intended all the great things for his family. He wanted to thwart his suffering and dire experiences against his sons.

As much as possible, he would want that his experiences of oppression by the Whites will not happen again to his family. However, this does not work, because in reality he is the opposite of what he thinks he is or what he represents to other people. His intention of protecting his family from the white oppression has proven to be obsolete because times have changed. This occurs in many instances with Cory and Lyons, his sons and Rose, his wife. The fence is a symbol for the family relationships they have in the house.

It is a device that is used either to keep a person in the family by keeping them in the periphery of the house or to send them away from the family. Hence, in the mean time, while Troy delays the building of the fence and Cory was too preoccupied to finish it, there was no assurance whether Troy is keeping the family or sending them away. As the play unfolds, we discover that it is the former. Even when the intention of Troy was to keep the family in-tact as he is a responsible father, he unconsciously has done things to cause the opposite. In an instant, he lost both his son Cory and his wife Rose.

Troy lost Cory when he caused the revocation of his scholarship and varsity offer as a football player in a university. Since the beginning of the play, we all know that Troy had a bitter experience as a young athlete because he was denied the chance to play for a university due to him being Black. Although, the times has already changed, he still thinks that Black people does not have a place in national sports. So when Cory announced that he is gong to quit his job in A&P so that he could concentrate in his game, Troy was furious. He wants Cory to stay so that he could help him finish the fence.

Moreover, he also wanted Cory to stay because he felt that he does stand a chance in the football game. He thinks that he is merely protecting Cory from the dire racism that he himself has experienced in his youth. When the recruiting agent from the university came over, Troy refused his consent which made Cory really angry at him. Because of this, Cory left the house and rebelled against his father. As mentioned, the intention of Troy was not to devoid Cory of his dreams, but to protect him from the consequences of oppression by the Whites, but this does work well.

In the process, he lost his son and his dreams to become a professional athlete. This is the first consequence of the fence not getting finished; he was unable to keep his son in the family because of his actions that he thought were genuine. It is noticed that for so long as the fence was unfinished, Cory did not go home to his family. He went home in the funeral of his father when the fence was already finished. Another consequence brought by the unfinished fence would be the broken marriage of Troy and Rose. Among the family members, it was highly observed that it was Rose who persisted that her husband and her son finish the fence.

It was her who thinks that the fence is important. This desire to have the fence finished suggests Rose’s commitment to maintain the love and cooperation of the family. But this did not happen because both Troy and Cory did not have interest in finishing the fence. As much as possible, they avoided the task. This avoidance of Troy implies his avoidance of his responsibility to his wife. This notion is very consistent because as the play unfolds we discover that Troy is maintaining a concubine. This was the final blow to the couple’s relationship.

When their marriage fell apart, we all know that it was Troy’s fault: him being irresponsible and unfaithful to Rose. So the fence serves a purpose in the play, an ultimate symbol of the family. Because it was unfinished, it did not serve its purpose in keeping the family together. It was unable to nurture the love and care of each family member to each other. However, when it was already finished, we all see the family reunite, the sons, the mother, and the father in his deathbed. Nevertheless, it was still a togetherness that was brought out by the fence, complete and nurturing.


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