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August Wilson’s “Fences” Review Essay

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2021

In Fences Wilson examines the trials of black family life in racist America. The family is faced with racial segregation along with unchecked housing and job discrimination forces them to settle for far less than the American Dream. The main character, Troy is depicted as the tyrant and the doting who commands a full range of emotions from pity to disgust. His family and all other characters pale beside his boisterous elocutions and selfish codes of behavior. Thesis The parental mistake made by Troy Manson is inability to compromise with and understand his children.

The play is based on a conflict between a father and his sons caused by misunderstanding and egoism of Troy. Troy Maxson is a fifty-three-year old garbage collector who still can recall ugly images of life under the iron rule of a frustrated, defeated father. At the same time, Troy tries the best way he knows how to direct the course of his own son’s life away from the negative influence of the boy’s ancestors. The main problem is that a top-notch baseball player during the Negro League’s heyday, Troy is too old to play on a desegregated Major League team. Troy asks Bono: “How in the hell they done changed? Bono replies: They got lots of colored boys playing ball now. Baseball and football. Troy’s egoism affects his son Cory. Intense dramatic episodes show that Troy and Cory clash over the boy’s plans to become a football player. Troy explains “the white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway”. When Cory is convinced by high school coaches that he has a future in football, he is quick to quit his after-school job at the local A&P. After Troy and his son Cory fight, Cory says “I’ll be back to get my things.” Troy replies, “They’ll be on the other side of that fence.”. Troy, who has other plans for Cory’s future, secretly discourages an interested recruiter from scouting the boy’s talents. As expected, Troy and Cory have a major argument, in which Troy encounters more opposition than he has ever gotten from any member of his family. Troy responded to rejection and to the segregation that kept him from using his talents in Major League baseball by adopting sheer survivalist codes of behavior: he resorted to stealing, eventually murdered a man, and, as a result, was sentenced to fifteen years in a penitentiary.

While Troy considers Cory’s job at the A&P to be a fitting beginning to a future of similar work, Cory has his sights on much greater goals. Because Troy was virtually shut out of Major League baseball, he wants his son to have no part in collegiate sports. Some, like Troy Maxson, rationalize that their downright mean treatment of their sons prepares them for the similar treatment that awaits them in society. These men let no opportunity pass without reminding their sons that they are the unquestionable authorities in their homes. Troy tells Cory, “You a man. Now, let’s see you act like one. Turn your behind around and walk out this yard. And when you get out there in the alley… you can forget about this house. See? Cause this is my house”. Troy denies his son’s coming manhood and continues to relish his powerful roles, as the sole provider, and as head of the Maxson household. Instead, acting in his usual autocratic manner, Troy maneuvers behind Cow’s back to destroy the boy’s chances of playing college football. He seems to gloat over this desperate display of authority, although it causes an already distant son to despise him. More important, Troy is the conspicuously absent father. The basic conflicts that emerged from such settings, therefore, revolved around the black female as sole head of the household, stoic in her resolve to hold her family together at all costs

Lyons, Troy’s son from a previous marriage, avoids confrontation and visits his father only when he wants a small loan; and Rose exists as a mere shadow in Troy’s presence until she learns that he has impregnated Alberta. However, throughout the play Lyons dislikes his father’s tactics and is not afraid to express his dissatisfaction, whether verbally, in the form of snide remarks, or physically, in a brief wrestling match. The other son, Cory, personifies optimism, but he must first confront and overcome the potentially emasculating dominance of the Maxson men. Cory suffers because of a father who has grown to regard him as “just another nigger on the street” and memories of a grandfather who sired children to be field hands, Cory is the hope of a new generation of black men. His unbridled enthusiasm about the possibility of attending college on a football scholarship suggests that he does not yet suffer from the defeatist attitudes that plagued the Maxson men before him. Interestingly Troy gets along marvelously with his first son, Lyons, who is an unemployed deadbeat musician. Despite his troubled relationship with Cory, Troy somehow feels that it is best that he humor Lyons to compensate for being a fifteen-year absentee father/convict. While he hands over Lyons’s usual $10 loan, the most resistance he can muster is, “Boy, your mama did a hell of a job raising you”. However, it is Cory, the son with boundless aspirations for a lucrative career and a college education, whom Troy opposes more. Troy is indifferent towards his family trying to prove his power and authority. “You got to take the crookeds with the straights. That’s what Papa used to say”. While on the surface it would appear that Troy is acting in Cory’s best interest, his motives reveal an undercurrent of jealousy prompted by a fear that Cory will exceed him on all counts. Trot says to Corry “Get your black ass out of my yard!”, The causes of envy is that Troy cannot envision that his son’s athletic ability may finance his college education and does not even consider discussing the matter with Rose.

The final scene takes place on the day of Troy’s funeral: one of his favorite concocted stories about doing battle with the grim reaper has caught up with him, and he has died while batting the rag doll he tied to a tree in the yard. Previously alienated, the family members respond to Troy’s death by tightening their communal bonds at this solemn occasion, and Rose gently convinces her prodigal son Cory to tear down the fences that have long existed between father and son. Troy was surprised at what the North had to offer: “I thought I was in freedom. Shhh. Colored folks living down there on the river banks in whatever kind of shelter they could find for themselves…. Living in shacks made of sticks and paper”. Troy dies a lonely man, but with at least the hope that his son Cory would rise above the racism that had made him so bitter.

In sum, troublesome relationships between Troy and his sons cause sufferings to all of them. Troy Maxson is fiercely proud of his so-called paternal responsibility, yet he is ashamed of sons who choose not to follow their father example. Although Cory’s failure to hold his job and his ambitions to play college football show lack of parental support and love so important for children. Wilson portrays challenges faced by fathers and sons who need to find their place in the society.

Works Cited

Wilson, A. Fences. Plume, 1986.

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