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August Wilson’s Fences The immigration of Africans to America as slaves has had a great effect to many things including literature. Despite their experiences in this foreign land, they brought with them a different culture that had not been experienced in the American society. The stories and experiences of African-Americans have seen authors write books and plays being staged with large audiences. This is due to the different but almost similar stories that these people have to tell regarding their journey to America and how difficult it was for them to fit in the society they found.
In 1983, the American playwright August Wilson released a play titled Fences. The play has a setting of the 1950s and it explores the evolving African –American experience with race relations as one of the many themes depicted in this play. The play revolves around a 53-year-old man named Troy who is an African-America. He is struggling to provide for his family and although he is a baseball player his color is a barrier for him being able to join professional baseball thus receiving little money to support his family.
This paper seeks to analyze the play and check on why it was given the title Fences (Wilson).
Analysis of the play Fences by August Wilson As earlier stated, the play is about a man named Troy. The play shows how Troy is struggling to not only provide for his family but also to fit in a society in which people are judged by their skin color.
The theme of race discrimination is portrayed well throughout the play. First, in the 1950s in which the play is set, people of color were seen as those who do not deserve any good thing in the society. They were associated to social crimes and ending up in jail for a crime not committed was a normal phenomenon (Wilson).
However, emotional disconnect with the society they lived in and failure to secure a job so as to earn a living was greatly contributing to them ending up being involved in these social crimes. In the play, Troy is shown as a baseball player a game he had learnt and played while in prison. He had ended up in prison for an accidental murder he had committed during a robbery. From this act it is evident that due to his failure of securing a job, Troy had ended up involving himself in robbery so as to earn himself a living but this time it turned out ugly and he ended up in prison.
Further, discrimination is seen at work place where some jobs could not be done by an African-American but instead they were reserved for the whites. This is seen when Troy manages to secure a job with a garbage collecting firm and he is heard asking Mr. Rand; who he refers to as the boss, why black men were not allowed to drive garbage trucks. This shows that indeed there was race discrimination at work place where African-Americans could not be bestowed with some responsibilities. The act of being denied an opportunity to drive a garbage truck can be seen as a sarcastic event.
It can be viewed in the way that even if garbage collection was being seen as dirty work that could only be done by those who were seen as less fortunate in the society, the fact that driving a garbage truck was seen as “literary driving a vehicle”, an African-American would not be allowed to drive the truck since they were restricted to do so during that time (Tamura). In addition, the play shows Rose who is Troy’s wife with whom they have a son named Cory, however, Troy has a son Lyon from a previous marriage but he does not leave with him.
Gabriel is Troy’s younger brother who has notable psychological damage after he suffered head injuries when he was serving as a soldier. This new development of Gabriela having served as a soldier brings contrast of sentiments of race discrimination and at the same time it can be viewed as one way in which discrimination of people of the color was being cemented. First as a contrast, this play shows how certain jobs were being reserved for whites. Soldiers were people who not only deserved respect from the society but also received a good pay.
Therefore, Gabriel’s employment as a soldier, contrasts the theme of discrimination where some jobs such as a being a soldier were being reserved for those the society thought they owed respect to. However, it can be viewed differently in the sense that owing to the tasks, experiences and challenges that faced soldiers in the battle fields, African-American men were seen as the right people for the job. This follows, the understanding that most of those who served in the army died in war or if one was luck to survive they would come home having sustained severe injuries like in the case of Gabriel.
This can be seen as a form of discrimination where those who were less regarded in the society were being recruited as soldiers since the society would be seen not to worry even if it lost them (Tamura). The play unfolds on a payday when Troy and his friend Bono are drinking and chatting. His son Lyon comes to him asking to be lent 10 dollars promising to refund the money soon since his girlfriend had secured a job. Troy gives him a hard time but after persuasion from his wife Rose, he finally lends his son the money.
From this scenario, one can see that the family is really struggling to survive owing to Lyon’s inability to raise even 10 dollars thus leading him to borrowing from his father. This shows that African-Americans were struggling a lot so as to survive in a society where living standards were high and a society where job opportunities were rare given the much rooted racial discrimination (Wilson). Further, as the play continues, Cory tells his parents of an opportunity for a college football scholarship. Troy vehemently condemns his son’s thought of applying it and they argue.
Troy does not want his son to play basket ball since he does not him to experience the racial discrimination he went through during the time he was playing baseball. The man does not back down his argument and following his experience with racial discrimination he is not ready to watch his son go through the same. As a result, Troy even approaches Cory’s coach and tells him that his son will no longer be playing football. Upon discovery of his father’s lies, Cory confronts him and they end up in a fight that causes Cory to be thrown out of the house by his father.
This scenario shows the effect that racial discrimination had to Troy’s life. Following him denying his son the opportunity to play college football with an excuse of racial discrimination, one can see that indeed Troy had gone through tough time due to racial discrimination and he was protecting his son. Despite his time of playing baseball and that of his son playing football being different, Troy could hardly believe that racial discrimination could have melted away, thus, the unmoved stand exhibited by him(Wiggins & Miller).
Consequently, after Cory is kicked out of the house, they no longer get along with his dad. This can be seen during the final act when Troy dies and Cory refuses to attend the funeral due to the long-standing resentment. However, after his mother’s persuasion, Cory attends the funeral to pay respect to the man who had tirelessly struggled to provide for them even if he was hard headed. The rivalry between son and father can be traced back to have been caused by racial discrimination. This is due to the fact that if Troy had not suffered through discrimination, he could not have denied his son to take the college
football scholarship and as a result they could not have argued to the extent of later not setting eyes on one another. One can see the indirect effect that racial discrimination had to people’s lives (Wiggins & Miller). Further, during Troy’s burial, Cory had just come from the military training. This can be analyzed as a positive step towards fighting racial discrimination. This follows the fact that during his father’s youth days, certain jobs opportunities such as joining the military were mostly given to the whites.
Therefore seeing Cory coming out of the military training it is evident that with time, racial discrimination had come to reduce thus allowing African-Americans be able to get job opportunities which earlier being people of color they could not easily get. In addition, throughout the play, Troy is shown as a man who had a different cultural influence or different socialization. First, this can be seen through his son Lyon who was from an earlier marriage. Further, in the play, Rose discovers that his husband has been having an affair with a lady called Alberta and he had made her pregnant.
However, Alberta dies during childbirth and Rose accepts to adopt her daughter Raynell whose father Troy dies when she is seven years old. Being an African-American, the act of having more than one wife is not out of the norms owing to African culture with him. However, finding himself in a society where polygamy is viewed as a thing past by time, Troy could not marry Rose while still having the first wife and he could not bring Alberta as another wife thus he ended up having an affair with her other than coming to the light (Sofola)..
In the African culture, to which Troy can still find some association, most communities allow polygamous marriages as this is seen as wealth as the man will have many children from these wives. Traditionally, in the African culture having more than one wife was seen as a public sign that a man had more resources that would allow him to marry as many women as he pleased. However, the culture was against adultery and a man would not be allowed to bear children outside marriage unless he would later end up marrying the lady (Sofola)..
Therefore, although the African culture among the African-Americans was fading away, its influence continued to affect them for years. Consequently, Troy was a man who had been influenced by this culture but the society which he currently lived in was not in support of the culture. Therefore, this explains his act in life of having a first marriage, then marrying Rose and finally having an affair with Alberta.
Troy’s case shows the effect that migration to the West had to African-Americans; it did not only give them a hard time trying to fit in a society where they were less regarded but it also eroded their cultures and presented them with a different and difficult socialization (Sofola). Having analyzed the play, one would seek to answer the question on why it was given the title “Fences”. First, the theme of racial discrimination can be seen to have portrayed the title Fences. This is seen throughout the play where lines of racial discrimination were used to deny Troy and other African-Americans job opportunities.
This judgment on bases of color is a fence in itself since it prevented them from getting good money to support their families. In addition, Troy could not join professional baseball playing due to the ‘fence’ of racial discrimination. However, to Cory, his father is the fence that does not allow him to get the college football scholarship after he refused him on the grounds of racial discrimination. In addition and to the literal meaning, Rose wanted to build a fence and forced Troy to start so that she could protect what is hers in the inside and leave what belongs to the society outside the fence. Conclusion
Throughout the play, racial discrimination is shown as the cause of anything that Troy’s family is going through. One can appreciate the writer’s overemphasize on this issue owing to the fact that this play is set in the 1950’s when racial discrimination was still evidently being experienced. The play assists one to understand the effect that racial discrimination had on the lives of African-Americans as well as the influence of Western culture to their socialization and culture. This play will assist in keeping the history of the experience of African-Americans in the American society and it will remain to be a crucial part of literature.
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