The play ‘Fences” by August Wilson explores the delicate issue of racism by interrogating the experiences of a black family as tracked in a number of decades. The effects of racism revealed in several instances in ‘Fences’ contradicts the national ethos of the American dream.
The title of the play alludes on the boundary that exists between the whites and the blacks in the United States of America. The American dream makes it clear through its guarantee of the freedom and equality with the promise of prosperity and success as per the ability or personal achievements of every American citizen. “Fences” reveals the obstacles that the different issues of race put on the way towards the realization of the American dream by the African-Americans with a close analysis of the characters in the play.
Intersection of racism with the attainment of the American Dream in “Fences”
Throughout the two generations that are represented in the play; Troy’s and Cory’s, the experiences of the black man tend to take an important change for the better (Koprince 346). The woes of the black American however, as revealed in the tales that Troy and Boon exchange started way back and are rooted in the slavery experience of the blacks. According to the tales, when the blacks were freed, they migrated from the south towards the north where they expected to lead much better lives with plenty opportunities.
However, an obvious sense of disillusionment follows this considering that they had no resources and infrastructure to depend upon. As emphasized through Troy’s experiences as a youth, the blacks were cast into a competitive capitalistic society while they were unprepared. This explains the reason why Troy, having left his father at a tender age had to live in shanties, steal and end up in prison.
The sense of equal opportunities was not appreciable those days despite the fact that the American state had declared freedom and equality to everyone regardless of the race (Miller 44). The prison experience provides a deeper explanation as to the disproportionate number of blacks to whites in American prisons.
The fact that Troy was a skilled baseball player in his youthful days but never found him a chance to get a place in the Major League Baseball due to the color of his skin beats the essence of the American dream (Koprince 345). Despite the fact that he was skilled and could play better than most white players could in the league, Troy could not secure a favor of acceptance in the league following the regulations that were in place aimed at racially discriminating the blacks.
Troy could have used this opportunity and earned a living as well as bridge the gap by climbing up the social ladder as provided for by the American dream. However, this was not the case, as the administrators could not allow him since it was until much later when he was already aged that the league administrators started accepting black players into the teams. This discrimination as portrayed through Troy deprives the African Americans the chance of making it in life despite their abilities.
When Troy’s son Cory is given the chance to join his college football team, Troy opposes the idea and says, “The white man aint’ gonna let him get nowhere with that football” (Wilson 915). This expresses his disillusionment with the system basing his argument on the experiences he had had earlier on in his life. Troy has to work even while he is aging to provide for his family while he could have saved from his abilities as a baseball player and used the money later.
In Act One of ‘Fences”, Troy’s character as a crusader of the black American rights is revealed when he stands up against the oppressive and racially discriminative decrees at his work place. This is where he faces the company manager at his workplace and asks him why other races denied the black men a chance to drive garbage trucks but were only working as garbage lifters in the company. His courage seems portrayed in his words to his boss.
He says, “That’s all I did. I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, why? Why you got the white men’s driving and the colored lifting?” (Wilson 913). This portrays his reaction to a system that sets limits on the black man despite his capabilities. The blacks seemed subjected to handle only the menial jobs that could never see them through financially. By driving the garbage trucks, the whites were being favored at the expense of the blacks who handled more hefty duties but earned less.
The fact that the long journey towards the realization of the American dream seems to take place during the times of troy can never escape the notice of a keenly interested reader of ‘Fences’” (Koprince 349). The claim follows several changes towards the attainment of the dream where absolute freedom and the upheaval of human rights hold take place throughout the play.
For instance, Troy’s grandparents had been slaves up until when Abraham Lincoln declared the abolition of slavery. “They sold the use of their muscles and bodies. They cleaned houses and washed clothes, they shined shoes and, in quiet desperation and vengeful pride, they stole and lived in pursuit of their dreams.
That they could breathe free, finally, and stand to meet life with the force of dignity and whatever eloquence the heart could call upon. (Wilson 912). There is a major transition from slavery towards freedom portrayed in fences. This is a major step in that it was the first stepping-stone towards the realization of the dream that puts emphasis on personal liberty and freedom.
As the play continues, several changes for the better take place. These include the change in the regulations that regulated the national league baseball to start accepting black players and labor rules. However, this took a lot of time to an extent that the delay cost Troy a career that could have meant a better life for him.
Later on in Act 2, Troy wins his quest in the garbage truck driving case securing the opportunity to become the first African American to drive the garbage trucks in his town. This mirrors the reality of the time when the play is set when the black movement was holding demonstrations against the oppressive white dominated regime.
The fact that it is Troy, who secures the first opportunity, one can view it as reflecting the strategies used by the oppressive regime to silence those championing for the rights of through incentives.
Once the person leading the liberation or anti racist movement accepted bribery, the demonstrations and constant pestering ended, a case perceived as possible considering the story of the African American that Troy and his wife talks about earlier on in the play that won a lottery and completely turned against his fellow blacks and became prejudiced against his own race.
Troy says, “I seen a white fellow come in there and order a bowl of stew. Pope picked all the meat out the pot for him. Man ain’t had anything but a bowl of meat! Negro come behind him and ain’t got nothing but the potatoes and carrots” (Wilson 923). This was after the Pope had refused serving a fellow black man.
Conclusion/Importance of My Interpretation
My style of interpretation plays an important role to the Americans as it reveals the position of racism as a major barrier in their effort to realize their dream. Based on the expositions made in the paper, the promises that the American dream offers to the Americans seem delayed and counteracted by racism as portrayed in “Fences”. This stands out through a keen observation of the happenings in the play as they revolve around the lives of people in a black family.
The conditions and experiences as subjected to the African Americans seem clear through their living conditions, which contrast the aspects of the American dream of giving the people an opportunity to lead richer and fuller lives with their rights intact as their creator (Miller 90) predestines them. The simplistic setting of the play in Troy’s yard symbolizes the humble conditions of the blacks despite having had opportunities to change their lives and make them fuller and more complete (Willie 165).
Troy dies still struggling with the effects of racism despite the fact that he was born after the abolition of slavery, which did not straighten the conditions for black Americans. This reveals that the attainment of the American dream is a means to an end rather than an end in itself with the revelations of its promises occurring gradually with time.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.
Koprince, Susan. Baseball as history and myth in August Wilson’s Fences. African American Review 40.2 (2006): 343-356.
Willie, Harrell. The Reality of American Life Has Strayed From Its Myths. Journal of Black Studies 41 (2010): 164-183.
Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Kissinger publications, 1990.