Fences: Unraveling the Aristotelian Tragedy of Troy Maxson

Categories: Tragedy

August Wilson's Fences stands as a poignant exploration of tragedy, intricately interwoven with the timeless insights of Aristotle. This essay delves into the multifaceted layers of the play, meticulously examining the elements of tragedy, dissecting Troy Maxson as a tragic hero, and unraveling the complexities of the plot—all within the framework of Aristotle's enduring principles.

I. Tragedy Unveiled: Aristotle's Parameters

Aristotle's Poetics defines tragedy as "the imitation of an action that is serious and also as having magnitude, complete in itself.

" Fences aligns impeccably with this definition, crafting a plot with a meticulous beginning, middle, and end that succinctly follow one another.

At the outset, Troy Maxson, a garbage man with a past in professional baseball, symbolizes success. He is beloved by his wife, admired by his friend Bono, and commands respect from his sons, Lyons and Cory. As the narrative progresses, however, Troy's life takes a tragic turn, marked by confessions of infidelity, strained relationships, and a solitary death, bereft of familial respect or friendship.

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The plot's intricacies, enriched with reversals and recognitions, contribute to the tragic depth. Troy's joy with Alberta turns to despair with her tragic death during childbirth, compelling him to confront mortality and challenge death itself. These twists underscore the complexity of his tragic journey.

Further delving into Aristotle's concept of tragedy, we find the importance of a complex plot with reversal and recognition. Troy's life, once stress-free and content with Alberta, takes a dramatic turn. His admission of fear, "And right now your daddy’s scared cause we sitting out here and ain’t got no home" (Act II Scene 3, p.

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73), marks a pivotal moment where Troy grapples with the consequences of his choices.

II. Troy Maxson: The Quintessential Tragic Hero

Aristotle's concept of a tragic hero finds embodiment in Troy Maxson. The tragic hero, Aristotle posits, need not be eminently good but must suffer due to error or frailty rather than vice. Troy's intentions for his family epitomize goodness—he provides financially, emphasizes responsibility, and desires the best for his sons.

Propriety, another aspect highlighted by Aristotle, is evident in Troy's character. However, as Kim Pereira notes in The African-American Odyssey, Troy becomes ensnared by bitterness, hindering his development as a father and husband. Despite his dominating demeanor, Troy's commitment to providing for his family remains a virtuous aim, illustrating the complexity of his character.

Troy's consistency, a crucial characteristic of a tragic hero, is evident in his belief that racial discrimination hinders black progress in America. Shaped by his experiences, Troy's convictions and behavior reflect the challenges faced by African-Americans in the 1950s.

Delving deeper into Troy's character, we witness how he embodies the ethos of a tragic hero. In his unwavering pursuit of responsibility and provision for his family, Troy's dialogue, "A man got to take care of his family. You live in my house...sleep you behind on my bedclothes...fill your belly up with my food...cause you my son" (Act 1 Scene 3, pg. 39-40), encapsulates his commitment, albeit in a dominating manner, to fulfill his duty.

Moreover, Troy's beliefs and behaviors align with the societal context of the 1950s. As the book "The African-American Odyssey" by Kim Pereira elucidates, Troy's experiences of discrimination, an abusive father, and the changing dynamics for African-Americans during that period shape his character. His assertion, "The white man ain't gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway" (Act 1, Scene 3, pg. 37), echoes the harsh realities of racial prejudices he faced.

III. Troy's Tragic Flaw and Frailty

Troy's tragic flaw lies in his attempt to protect his family while grappling with his own identity. His frailty is rooted in experiences of racism, particularly in professional sports, and an unwillingness to accept societal change. While encouraging Cory to forge his path, Troy paradoxically stifles his son's chances, fearing a repetition of his own sporting disappointments.

His excuse for betrayal stems from a long-standing feeling of being stuck on first base, revealing an inability to connect emotionally with others. Troy's struggles with emotional commitment, inherited from his past, contribute to the complexities of his character and the unfolding tragedy.

Expanding on Troy's emotional complexities, we recognize his reluctance to let Cory pursue sports. His declaration, "I don’t want him to be like me! I want him as far away from my life as he can get…I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports" (Act 1 Scene 3, pg. 39), unveils a father's fear, born from personal disillusionment, inadvertently trapping his son in the same struggles.

IV. Legacy and Redemption

Despite Troy's flaws, he imparts valuable lessons to his family, teaching them to navigate life's challenges. His legacy, as described by Monaco, involves learning to face adversity and play to one's strengths. The family members, as they move towards their destinies, exhibit a profound understanding of themselves and a heightened instinct for survival.

Cory, once resentful, comes to accept his father's faults, and the family finds hope, power, and deliverance by confronting the forces of the past. While Troy remains contained by death, the other characters, free from his shadow, progress in their lives—Cory in the Marines, Rose in her church involvement, Gabriel in the hospital, Bono in a happy marriage, and Raynell with her own family.

V. The Culmination: Fences as a Timeless Tragic Masterpiece

In conclusion, Fences undeniably aligns with Aristotle's description of tragedy, presenting Troy Maxson as a tragic hero grappling with the complexities of life. The play's intricate plot, the portrayal of a flawed yet virtuous protagonist, and the ultimate redemption of the family contribute to its classification as a timeless tragic masterpiece.

As we navigate the depths of Fences, we uncover not just a tragic tale but a mirror reflecting the universal struggles of humanity—making it an enduring testament to the brilliance of August Wilson and the enduring relevance of Aristotle's insights.

With every nuanced layer of the play, Fences beckons us to contemplate the human condition, urging us to confront our own tragedies and triumphs. In this exploration, we find not just a theatrical masterpiece but a timeless reflection of the human spirit, etching itself into the annals of tragic literature.

Written by Isabella Garcia
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Keep in mind: this is only a sample!
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
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Fences: Unraveling the Aristotelian Tragedy of Troy Maxson. (2016, Jun 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/fences-play-according-to-aristotle-essay

Fences: Unraveling the Aristotelian Tragedy of Troy Maxson essay
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