Troy Maxson and Racism: Character Analysis of Troy Maxson

Categories: Fences

Racism is everywhere, it's all around the United States. Racism refers to the characterization of a group of people with specific traits. The play Fences by August Wilson takes place throughout the late 1950s through to 1965. The main character, Troy Maxson, is an African American who works for the sanitation department. Racism plays an enormous role in Troy’s life however more significantly, it's been the force behind his actions that have led him to make biased and judgmental decisions for himself and his family.

The play intends to shed light on how racism affected the lives of Troy Maxson and his family.

Troy’s life has been full of racial discrimination that in turn mentally scars him. His attitude and behavior towards others are controlled by his own experiences. The play Fences, that is largely centered around Troy, begins with Troy entertaining Bono and Rose with a story of his struggle with death or the Devil. His use of such stories, while they do entertain and frustrate his family and friends, permits Troy to live in a made-up world.

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His ability to believe his made-up instances and his inability to accept the choices and ideas of others that are different from his own is what causes him to begin conflicts. His singular way of thinking is mainly based on experience. These experiences all come from his past. Which is comprised of a rather rough childhood, prison, his unsuccessful baseball career, as well as the unfair tendencies of his employers. During this specific time, the segregation between blacks and whites was at a high.

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This influence was a major factor in which Troy’s life was built on. Throughout the play, Troy is a normal African American conforming to the constraints of racism and segregation. At the beginning of the play, however, Troy is in the middle of standing up to his white employers. He questions them on why only white men are driving trucks and not black men too. This is the first time Troy is standing up against racism and he eventually becomes the first black truck driver.

Some of the issues that often influence Troy are his inability to recognize social progress and the generational gap between his son Cory and himself. His view of current times is the same as it was when he grew up and that’s why his ideas of opportunities for Cory are limited to trade jobs because he believes that the world of opportunities belongs to the white man. Troy grew up having a difficult relationship with his father. His painful memories give the audience some context in which they can understand the similarities and differences of the generations that separate Troy from Cory and Lyons. Troy’s failure to recognize change is what keeps him limited to what he has. It additionally affects the decisions he makes concerning Cory and the rest of his family. Troy’s first major experience with racism is during his baseball career. He was turned away from major league sports due to his skin color and age, therefore, he had to share his abilities with the Negro leagues. The impact it had on him was a long-lasting one. This is shown through his objection to Cory playing football. Bitter about his own rejection from major-league baseball, Troy shows resentment and jealousy towards Cory’s achievements while telling him that black athletes have to be twice as talented to make the team and that “the white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football no way” (Wilson). His experience with segregation made him want to protect Cory from the rejection he felt because he believed that Cory would go through the same treatment as he did. Without acknowledging the generational gap, he forced his ideas on Cory believing that the segregation between blacks and whites was still as strong as it was during his time. His decision was also influenced by the very fact that he felt threatened and jealous by Cory’s potential success. To protect his masculinity, he had to ruin his son’s future success. His relationship with Cory is unlike the relationship he shares with his other son Lyons. Troy accepts Lyons because he sees him as a failure and therefore isn’t any better than Troy himself. Troy sees Lyons’s failure in music the same as his playing baseball, he believes that Lyons will eventually settle for defeat as he did then get a real job as he did. The impact of racism fills his mind with defeat and eventually affects the way he thinks and therefore affects his actions and decisions towards his family.

Troy’s view of racism has scarred him mentally which affects his actions. The constant reminders of his failure continue to haunt him and eventually leads him to have an affair with Alberta. Even though he still loves and feels a responsibility towards Rose and his family, he still feels lost in the world of failure. In Troy’s defense, he sees Alberta as an escape from the real world. He sees her as an opportunity to be someone else, someone without regret, loss, failure, and responsibility. His affair represents his wanting to free himself of the racial injustice he has suffered. Without caring about the people in his life, he acted out of selfishness while not realizing the consequences of his actions. Not only did racism have an effect on him, but it also destroyed what he shared with his family. The title “Fences” plays a really important symbolic role during this part of the play. In the beginning, Rose pestered Troy to build a fence. Troy didn't understand the reason behind her wanting a fence however it was later explained to Troy by Bono that 'Some people build fences to keep people out . . . and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you” (Wilson). Throughout most of the play, Troy neglected to finish the fence, which showed his neglect towards his family. Once he finally got around to finishing the fence it was already too late. His actions and decisions had already destroyed his family to the point where it couldn't be fixed. The consequences of racism affected Troy’s entire life.

In the end, Troy died living behind a heap of problems between him and his family. He began being loved and praised by his family but eventually, he began to succumb to the weight of racism. It can be said that the effects of racism finally took the better of Troy and it dominated his life. Like his fictional stories, death finally took him.

Updated: Feb 14, 2024
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Troy Maxson and Racism: Character Analysis of Troy Maxson. (2024, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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