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How would you feel if your life has been a failure.? This is the question Troy maxson, the protagonist in the play “Fences” by August Wilson had to live with through the rest of his life. Barbara says, “Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson, a garbage collector, whose dreams of becoming a major league baseball player are shattered by the prohibition against integrated games that lasted until 1947—when Troy is past his prime.” (Wilcots, p.2). Shaped by the effects of racism in his life, by the wrestle it created in his youth, not fulfilling his dream as a baseball player, Troy lives in the shadow of what could and should have been.
Troy’s character is the climax that all other relationships in the play assemble around. First and foremost, Troy is a brother to Gabriel, a wife to Rose, father to his three sons and lastly, a friend to Bono. Troy Maxon is a virtuous man with a dreadful flaw that leads him to a bad path ending in depression, sorrow and ruin.
August Wilson plays are always realistic, and they often include the activities and situations that occurs in everyday lives. The characters in Wilson’s plays are black and they
speak in an African -American language similar to the one spoken in “Pittsburg”. His characters speak in a very profound way than you’d find in an everyday speech. For this reason, it is seen “Fences” is an example poetic realism.
Troy is a hardworking man who is introduced to the audience as strong willed and willing to do everything possible to provide for his family.
He constantly reminds his family and children of his role as head of the house and him being breadwinner each time they mention a career he doesn’t want them to get into. For example, at the beginning of the play, it is evident Troy has two sons, Cory and Lyons. Cory has a chance at a football team, but Troy refuses stating, “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football no way.” (1.3). Troy’s past experiences had modelled his opinions and there is a tiny bit of jealousy considering because Cory has gotten a shot on what Troy wanted but didn’t get as a kid. So, he is perceived as being resistant to change.
While a part of him is truly trying to engage Cory into a position which is fruitful and can’t be taken away from him, another part of him is trying secretly and jealously to bring Cory down and keep him away as he had been kept for so many years. The verbal abuse by Troy to Cory is enough for him to question his father’s love: “How come you ain’t never liked me.?” (1.3.39). Troy responds by saying that his love can be seen in the provision of basic needs to his children like clothing, food and shelter. This clearly shows Troy as a man who believes in hard work to provide for his family.
Neither Lyons and Cory share a close relationship with Troy. It is clear that Troy is to blame. He is unsupportive of his children and what they want in life. Wilson tries to show Troy’s relationship with Lyons is stained immediately Lyons makes his first appearance. Troy rudely greets him by asking “Hey, popping” me for?” (1.1.15). It is learned that Lyons is a struggling musician who constantly borrows money from his dad, and Troy isn’t supportive of his son being a musician although that is what makes him happy. Troy would rather have him as a garbage man.
It should be noted that Troy Maxson isn’t a bad man, his actions may come off as wicked and mischievous, but he also has some likeable and admirable qualities. He is kind and passionate and listening to him telling stories is captivating. Although he is tough and has a strange way of showing he loves his family, beneath him is a man who truly cares about his family and wants the best for them. As a result of entering adulthood at an early stage, Troy never learned any way of expressing his love other than providing for needs. He was forced to provide for himself, no one to show or teach him how to love and had to give up on his dream. So, his entire energy and time was focused on providing for his family, without realizing he slowly loses them in the process. He is far from perfect, but he has an inner strength that aspires, making him above all memorable.
As a result of having his dream ultimately destroyed, Troy is vulnerable. Not just defenseless to others, but by believing in the drastic illusions he created for himself from leaving his dream to work at a job he wasn’t called out for. Troy is also seen as someone who feels more comfortable living in his beliefs and fantasies rather than accepting reality. This is noticed when
he tries to convince Bono his relationship with Alberta is nothing more consensual but in reality, he had an affair with Alberta. He is also seen as a dishonest man and a schemer because whenever Gabriel seeks to know if Troy is unhappy with him, he says nothing is wrong. Troy also portrays an act of self-guilt for his failure to accommodate his brother.
Troy’s hurtful words and actions makes it almost impossible to sustain relationships with not only his son, but wife. Rose is a well devoted house wife who somehow believed her husband could change and that there was a good side to his ugliness. As a husband, Troy loves his wife but acts like Rose is underneath him just because she is a woman. This is evident after his conversation with Bono where he says, “Well go back to the house and let me and Bono finish what we were talking about. This is men’s talk.” (1.1.8). Apart from taking responsibility and providing financially for his family, Troy is seen as man who doesn’t care about this home. Rather his is interested in his own wellbeing.
Troy further goes ahead to cause a commotion when he confesses to his wife about his affair with Alberta, and the fact she’s pregnant for him. Rose promised to be a loving mother to her children, but she stopped being a wife to Troy. She had lived her life believing Troy will change, trying to see the good in him even when no one else saw it. But after his cheating, she couldn’t be with him anymore. Troy Maxson is the center of the play and all other characters revolve around him. He is perceived as an immoral man because he cheated on his wife and felt no remorse in admitting it. Troy is a schemer who tries to manipulate everything and everyone to his advantage. He causes conflict in the play, hence making it exhilarate.
Troy Maxson is an outstanding character because he believes in his own illusions. He contradicts everyone’s opinion and sees himself as the winner in every conflict. For instance, he criticizes Rose game with number’s, Cory’s desire to join the football team and Lyon’s resolution to be a musician. Troy is depicted as a charismatic person because his past lifestyle doesn’t match with his current lifestyle. His name means a combination of good and bad. A tough willed man, but beneath him has a soft side which makes people see the sweet gentleman in him. In this regard, he is the imaginary line between the free and slave states. Troy is also a character which mingles with the norms but also represents the stereotypical hardliners.
Troy Maxson represents more than just a man who is resentful about his past experience. He represents nature’s unwillingness to adjust to change. Just as the white men reckon the blacks even after segration took place, they still viewed them as inferior. This concept can be seen in Troy. He constantly uses baseball to justify his actions even if it isn’t part of his daily life. When he talks about facing death, he describes death as a “fastball” on the outside corner.” (1.1.12). He also uses the baseball terminology when he bullies Cory: “You swung the bat and didn’t hit it. That’s the strike one.” (1.4.60). Troy also uses baseball when he tried to explain his affair with Alberta. He tells Rose when he found her, and they had Cory, he felt “safe”. (2.1.72), but after years of marriage, he met Alberta and “wanted to feel second.” (2.1.72). Rose isn’t pleased with Troy’s words and tells him “we not talking baseball here. We talking about you going off to lay in bed with another woman.” (2.1.72). With this, Troy is the perfect example for a tragic hero.
Fences looks just like a simple title, but by the time it reaches the ending, it is evident where the title is coming from. Troy and Cory are building a fence and it takes them the entire play to finish it because Troy neglects the construction. He makes up excuses that Cory is never around to complete the work, but Cory points out that Troy “don’t never do anything but go down to Taylors.” (1.3.31). Here, it is obvious here that each time Troy goes down to Taylor’s, he goes to see his mistress. The fence is a symbolic representation of the whole play, and therefore, it could be concluded that the neglected fence is a symbolization of Troy’s neglect for his family. The fence could also be seen as a symbol of the things Troy wants to get away from. This symbol is quite obvious in the last dialogue between Troy and Cory. Cory states, “Tell mama I’ll be back for my things”, and Troy said, “They will be on the other side of the fence.” (2.4.91).
According to Joseph H. Wessling, “It is easy to make the case that August Wilson’s play Fences is a tragedy and that Troy Maxson is its tragic protagonist. Few comedies end with a funeral, and there is no denying that Troy’s character and life are the stuff of tragedy. But Wilson’s vision is much larger than Troy’s heroic side, his deeds and omissions. Troy, for all his strengths, is flawed humanity in need of grace and forgiveness.” (par 1). Eight years letter, Troy Maxson dies from a heart attack and Cory returns from the Marine but refuses to attend his father’s funeral. Rose tells him not attending his father’s funeral doesn’t make him a man and he has to set aside his anger towards Troy: “I know you and your daddy ain’t seen eye to eye, but I ain’t got to listen to that kind of talk this morning. Whatever was between you and your daddy … the time has come to put it aside. Just take it and set it over there on the shelf and forget about it.
Disrespecting your daddy ain’t gonna make you a man, Cory. You got to find a way to come to that on your own. Not going to your daddy’s funeral ain’t gonna make you a man.” Haven’t said this, Cory went to his father’s funeral together with Raynell and everyone else’s.
Troy Maxson may have had his ups and downs as a father to his sons, wife to Rose, friend to Bono and brother to Gabriel, but he wasn’t all bad. It can be concluded that, he was a tragic hero. Troy used good deeds in the light of others, but allowed his flaws and inner strength overcome him, leading him into a tragic death. Although he made a couple of mistakes, he made sure he did not repeat his dad’s mistakes. He worked day and night to provide for his family materialistically but failed to expose too much of his love to his children. Although he cheated on his wife, he indeed loves her as he stated: “I love this woman so much it hurts. I love her so much. I done run out of ways of loving her.” (1.1.22). This quote reveals the fact that the Maxson family has a foundation of love. Troy Maxson can be seen as a tragic hero who loved his family but let his weaknesses overcome him.
Wessling, Joseph H. ‘Wilson’s Fences.’ Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W.
Hunter, vol. 222, Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1100072303/LitRC?u=pgcc_main&sid=LitRC&xid=08359b4e. Accessed 9 Aug. 2018. Originally published in Explicator, vol. 57, no. 2, Winter 1999, pp. 123-127.
Wilcots, Barbara. “Fences.” Encyclopedia of African-American Literature, Second Edition,
Facts on File, 2013. History, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=&itemid=WE01&articleId=27356. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018.
‘Character Analysis of Troy Maxson From Fences English Literature Essay.’ UKEssays.com. 11
2013. All Answers Ltd. 08 2018 .
Menson-Furr, Ladrica C. August Wilsons Fences (Continuum Modern Theatre Guides). London:
Methuen Drama., 2008, web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook/ZTAwMHhuYV9fMzQ0MTU2X19BTg2?sid=7a5b4334-9673-4fc5-9848-e5d37180c4b7@sessionmgr120&vid=1&format=EK&lpid=ch02&rid=0.
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