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Fences by August Wilson Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 1st, 2020


August Wilson was born in Pittsburgh’s Hill district in 1945 to a white father and a black mother which was certainly not a promising start in his life. His racial identity caused him quite a number of misfortunes inherent within the trans-racial culture of slavery and discrimination.

In historical sense, the play eluminates the inherent inequality of power between black communities and the white supremacies and ways in which racism has become internalised by invading the social fabric of our communities. In the play, “Fences” by August Wilson, the character of Troy Maxson portrays a man that has a lot of hard times in his past, especially when it came to his father. Because of it, it has turned him into a man incapable of showing love to his own children and in the end a tragic figure.


The book’s title “Fences”, offers a central metaphor for the play in exploring lives and relationships of black families back in 1950s as slaves to the white men. Troy, a major character in the book, is fiercely proud of his ability to provide for his family, a responsibility he effortlessly tries to instil into his son’s life who is otherwise determined to find a place in the college league.

Racism and discrimination becomes the centre stone of our analysis by providing the metaphoric activity of the play which however illustrates the distinct relationships that existed between the black and white cultures in 1950s.

For nearly two decades, Troy worked as garbage man alongside Bono. Together they hauled junk on the alleys and neighbourhoods, and later applied for a promotion which was not an easy task due to the white supremacy but got it anyway as a garbage truck driver, a career that symbolically separated him from American community (Wade 1).

To answer the question of fractured relationship between Troy and his son, Troy’s inability to secure a chance in Negro Baseball Team due to racism crippled his future of ever having money or fame associated with it. Since he now works as a garbage man, he sees no hope for his son’s promised college scholarship in a league he considered dominated by the white culture. He asks Cory to instead consider getting a job or help out in the household chores than bartering up in the league.

Troy and Bono narrates the story of their childhood in the South and their difficult relationships with their fathers and how Negro League scaled down his life time dream to fit a rich man’s society into a run-down yard, an experience he never wishes his son Cory to encounter.

He’s been seriously scarred by the 1950s racism that loomed black communities. Brutality can also be portrayed when Troy’s father severely beat him when he found him with a girl and even raped the girl, reflecting conflict and abuse within the play (Fisherman 15).

Due to slavery, Troy and his son, Cory, interpret life differently because of their histories. For instance, Troy discourages his son from participating in the college’s football team arguing that his past racism experience discriminated him against the league for being of the minority culture.

And Cory should not experience the same hardship, disappointment and rejection he encountered. Corry, however, dismisses his claim by arguing that life has changed since he played. He therefore goes ahead and provides examples of successful African American athletes Wilson mentions as “The Braves got Hank Aaron and Wes Covington. Hank Aaron hit two home runs today. That makes fourty-three” (Act One scene three).

And Cory responds by saying that “Hank Aaron aint nobody” (Act One, scene three). It’s evident that if Troy would accept this change in the world would mean accepting his own misfortune. Their different perceptions of history provide a conflict that drifts away the father and son relationship.

Troy looks back at his past experience in the Negro League baseball with repulsive resentment that locked him out of the major league’s money and fame; an experience Zirin considers “turned his scars into wips” (1).

Due to is past experiences that never achieved him higher status in the social society, he insist on Troy returning to work and earn his way up in academic career because he sees employment to be fair and honest rather than risking his chance in the college league that is dominated by the powerful majority group. He is sure, sooner or laiter, that they will want him out of the league. And it was this discrimination that made him defiance.

In historical perspective, Cory sees life the way it is; a changing world that is gradually accepting a place for talented black players like him, but Troy’s irrational hypocrisy illustrates conflicting interpretation of history.

His hardened perception of the past makes him refuse to see the college recruiter coming to seek his permission for Cory to join the college football. He considers his selfish decision as protection, a strategy that clearly holds back a promising future for the son he believes to be protecting (Wilson Act One scene five).

Dr. Shannon argues that Wilson book “Fences” has contributed greatly to the historical legacy of African American tradition in relation to slavery and racism. She continues that the play provide themes that cut cross the contemporary social issues inherent within the slavery period.

She adds that the book lets the readers talk openly about unemployment, discrimination, pain, resignation and dislocation and exposes the long held stereotypical myths and views white people have against blacks. She also uses the book to lecture in seminars on social relevance of the books themes in today’s society (Shannon 3).


Fences by August Wilson re-writes the history of African American in the United States that was otherwise ignored by a vast majority of historical writers. By confronting horrors of slavery, the play uncoils the stories that were forgotten and misrepresented by writers who only read about them but did not have the experience Wilson had. The play brings the past to the present and it is without doubt the most remarkable healing therapy for African American would need to burry the past and move forward.

Which brings us to the question why Troy Maxon’s past made him so harsh towards his son? To answer this question, we consider his painful past experiences he never wishes to pass on to his son, however, it should be noted that his experience only relates to history and should not come in the way of his next generation’s success. By refusing Cory to join the college football league only kills his son’s good future he considers protecting either than bettering it.

Works Cited

Fisherman, Joan. “Developing His Song: August Wilson’s Fences.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.

Shannon, Sandra G. The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson. Washington, D.C: Howard UP, 1995.

Wade, Bradford. “August Wilson’s Fences”. Character and Setting Analysis. 2003: 1 Wilson, August. Fences: A play. New York: Plume Books, 1986.

Zirin, David. 2005. “Tribute to August Wilson: Breaking Down Fences”. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Fences by August Wilson'. 1 July.

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