The Impact of African Slaves' Migration on American Literature

Categories: Fences

August Wilson's play "Fences" examines the significant impact of African slaves' migration to America, specifically on literature. Despite facing challenges in their new country, these individuals brought a unique culture that was previously unknown to American society. Consequently, writers have been inspired to create works and stage plays that engage large audiences by recounting the stories and experiences of African-Americans. These narratives illuminate the immigrants' arduous journey to America and the difficulties they faced while assimilating into society. Thus, "Fences" serves as an initial exploration of these themes.

August Wilson, an American playwright, premiered Fences in 1983. The play delves into the African-American experience with race relations during the 1950s. It centers around Troy, a 53-year-old African-American man who confronts obstacles in providing for his family because of racial barriers. The play sheds light on how these challenges affected his baseball career and led to financial struggles. This analysis focuses on August Wilson's play titled Fences.

August Wilson's play Fences delves into the challenges encountered by Troy, a man striving to provide for his family and navigate a society that unfairly discriminates against individuals based on their skin color.

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The play adeptly showcases the theme of racial discrimination and reveals the societal prejudices endured by people of color during the 1950s. In this era, minority individuals were unjustly branded as undeserving members of society and frequently became targets for crimes they did not commit, resulting in wrongful incarceration (Wilson).

Nevertheless, the lack of a communal emotional connection and the difficulty in finding employment were significant reasons that drove these individuals to partake in criminal activities.

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Within the play, Troy is depicted as an ex-baseball player who acquired and practiced his skills while incarcerated. It becomes apparent that Troy was imprisoned following an unintentional fatality resulting from a robbery. This occurrence emphasizes how Troy turned to theft as a method of making money due to his inability to secure employment; regrettably, it led to a disastrous outcome and landed him in prison.

Additionally, workplace discrimination is evident as certain jobs were exclusively reserved for white individuals, while African-Americans were barred from performing them. This is apparent when Troy attains employment at a waste management company and questions Mr. Rand, whom he addresses as the boss, about the prohibition of black men driving garbage trucks. This demonstrates the existence of racial bias in the workplace where African-Americans were unfairly denied certain responsibilities. The denial of the opportunity to operate a garbage truck can be interpreted as a cynical incident.

Even if garbage collection was considered menial labor designated for those marginalized in society, African-Americans were still barred from driving garbage trucks during that time (Tamura). The play also introduces Rose, Troy's wife, who has a son named Cory. However, Troy has another son named Lyon from a previous marriage, but Lyon does not reside with them.

Gabriel, Troy's younger brother, experienced significant psychological trauma from head injuries sustained while serving as a soldier. This revelation highlights both the contrasting emotions surrounding racial discrimination and serves as an example of how discrimination against people of color was reinforced. Firstly, the play demonstrates the discrepancy in job opportunities reserved for white individuals, as soldiers were held in high regard and received substantial compensation.

Therefore, Gabriel’s employment as a soldier contrasts the theme of discrimination where certain jobs, including being a soldier, were reserved for individuals society believed deserved respect. However, this perspective can be seen in a different light when considering the tasks, experiences, and challenges encountered by soldiers in the battlefields. African-American men were considered the right candidates for these roles due to the understanding that many who served in the army perished or returned home with severe injuries, as exemplified by Gabriel's situation.

In the society, discrimination is evident as individuals who were not highly regarded were recruited as soldiers. This is because it was perceived that society would not be concerned if they were lost (Tamura). The storyline of the play takes place on a payday when Troy and his friend Bono are engaged in drinking and conversation. Troy's son, Lyon, approaches him asking to borrow 10 dollars, assuring him that the money will be repaid soon due to his girlfriend obtaining employment. Initially resistant, Troy eventually relents and lends the money to his son, thanks to the persuasion of his wife, Rose.

From this situation, it is evident that the family is facing considerable challenges in their efforts to survive due to Lyon's inability to raise a mere 10 dollars, which forces him to borrow from his father. This demonstrates the immense struggle faced by African-Americans in a society characterized by high living standards and limited job opportunities, exacerbated by deep-seated racial discrimination (Wilson). Additionally, as the play progresses, Cory informs his parents about a potential college football scholarship opportunity. Troy strongly disapproves of his son's idea to apply for it, resulting in a heated argument between them.

Troy is against his son playing basketball due to the racial discrimination he experienced while playing baseball. He strongly believes that his son should not have to go through the same discrimination and refuses to witness it. As a result, Troy even goes as far as talking to Cory's football coach and informing him that his son will no longer be participating in the sport. When Cory finds out about his father's deception, they confront each other, leading to a fight and ultimately resulting in Troy kicking Cory out of their home.

The text highlights the significant impact of racial discrimination on Troy's life. This is evident when he uses racial discrimination as an excuse to deny his son the opportunity to play college football. Despite the different time periods in which Troy played baseball and his son is playing football, Troy firmly believes that racial discrimination still exists and wants to protect his son from it (Wiggins & Miller).

As a result of Cory being expelled from his home, there is a strained relationship between him and his father. This strain becomes apparent in the final act when Troy dies and Cory refuses to attend the funeral due to their long-standing resentment. However, after being persuaded by his mother, Cory goes to the funeral as a way to demonstrate respect for the man who had tirelessly supported them despite his stubbornness. The deep-seated animosity between father and son can be attributed to racial discrimination as its underlying cause. This is because if Troy had not faced discrimination, he would not have prevented his son from pursuing higher education.

The text discusses the impact of racial discrimination on people's lives, particularly in relation to a football scholarship and employment opportunities. It also highlights the positive step taken by Cory, who attends his father's burial after completing military training. This signifies a possible effort to combat racial discrimination, as historically, opportunities like military service were predominantly available to white individuals.

In light of Cory's emergence from military training, it becomes clear that over time, racial discrimination has diminished, enabling African-Americans to access job opportunities that were previously inaccessible due to their ethnicity. Moreover, throughout the play, Troy is depicted as a man influenced by a different culture and socialization. This is evident through his son Lyon, who comes from Troy's previous marriage. Additionally, Rose discovers in the play that her husband has been cheating on her with a woman named Alberta and has impregnated her.

Alberta dies during childbirth and Rose agrees to adopt her daughter Raynell after Troy, the father, dies when she is seven years old. Due to African cultural norms, having multiple wives is not unusual for African-Americans like Troy. However, in a society where polygamy is seen as outdated, Troy cannot marry Rose while still being married to his first wife. Additionally, he cannot officially be with Alberta as another wife. As a result, he has an affair with her instead of openly acknowledging their relationship (Sofola).

In the African culture, to which Troy can still find some connection, many communities accept polygamous marriages as a symbol of wealth, as the man will have numerous children from these wives. In traditional African culture, having multiple wives was an indication that a man had sufficient resources to marry multiple women. However, adultery was frowned upon, and a man could only have children outside of marriage if he intended to eventually marry the woman (Sofola).

Although the African culture among the African-Americans was diminishing, its impact on them persisted for years. As a result, Troy, who had been influenced by this culture, found himself living in a society that did not embrace it. This explains his choices in life, from entering into a first marriage, to marrying Rose, and ultimately engaging in an affair with Alberta.

Troy’s experience illustrates the impact of migration to the West on African-Americans; not only did it pose challenges in adapting to a society that held them in lower regard, but it also eroded their cultures and presented them with a challenging process of socialization (Sofola). Upon analyzing the play, one might ponder why it was titled "Fences". Primarily, the theme of racial discrimination is depicted as the reason behind the title. Instances of racial discrimination are prevalent throughout the play as they are used to deny Troy and other African-Americans job opportunities.

The notion that judgment based on color creates barriers is evident in multiple aspects of this story. It hindered individuals from earning sufficient income to support their families. It also prevented Troy from pursuing a career in professional baseball, as racial discrimination acted as a barrier. Moreover, to Cory, his father serves as a barrier that prevents him from obtaining a college football scholarship because of racial discrimination. On another layer of interpretation, Rose desired to construct a fence to safeguard her personal possessions within it and separate them from what belongs to society outside the fence.

In conclusion,

The play emphasizes the importance of racial discrimination as the main challenge faced by Troy's family. This is especially important because the play is set in the 1950s, a time characterized by widespread racial discrimination. Its goal is to educate readers about how racial discrimination affected African-Americans' lives and how Western culture influenced their socialization and culture. By documenting African-Americans' experiences in American society, this play becomes an important literary work that preserves their history for future generations.

Updated: Feb 16, 2024
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The Impact of African Slaves' Migration on American Literature. (2018, Oct 27). Retrieved from

The Impact of African Slaves' Migration on American Literature essay
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