Fences,1985 is a play by August Wilson, and a good example of family drama. In addition to entertainment, Fences, 1985 provides insight on the nature of family and racism during the times of August. The play features Denzel Washington playing the lead role as Troy Maxson while Viola Davis takes the role of Troy’s wife, Rose. The use of the title Fences by August Wilson is both realistic and symbolic in meaning.
First, it may be referring to the fence surrounding the home of Troy Maxson as seen in the play’s setting. On the other hand, it has a deeper implication of the psychological isolation that existed in the lives of African Americans at the height of racial discrimination.
Several themes are visible in the development of Fences,1985 by August Wilson. However, the theme of family and African American experiences, at a time when racial discrimination was common, is highly conspicuous in the play.
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Fences 1985, Setting, Plot, and Themes
The setting of Fences is in the household entrance of Troy Maxson’s house. The conversation between Troy and Bono, in the play, begins in the family yard. The theme of family is present throughout the play. Perhaps, it is an indication of the writer’s intention to communicate the importance of family to the reader.
Troy Maxson, the main character in Fences, is introduced as a masculine large man who has worked hard to purchase a house for his family. He is married to Rose Lee Maxson and they have a son named Corry. The family of Troy is portrayed as being divided, as shown in his failure as a father for denying his son, Cory, a chance to advance his interest in football (Wilson 6).
Troy severes relations with his family by maintaining a cool distance after he impregnates his mistress, a fact known to his wife. Troy is overheard by his wife in the conversation with Bono, whereby he admits his love for women, stating that it is bourne out of politeness. However, it becomes clear that he never intended to settle down for a family with Rose in the first place (Wilson 5).
Rose is determined in marriage and advises Troy keep off his cheating habits, for which their marriage lacks faithfulness. Troy takes his duties lightly and instead points blame at Cory, whom he accuses of not availing himself at work oftentimes. However, Cory reminds Troy that he is more guilty of missing work because he’s always going to Taylor’s. Troy going to Taylor’s, at this point in the play, shows that the affairs of Troy are greatly affecting his family relationships.
Family is the basic and most significant unit of every society. A strong family is characterized by solid family backgrounds. This strong societal institution empowers and greatly influences the accomplishments and strengths of every society. In that regard, August Wilson’s Fences illustrates how unfaithfulness can destabilize a family.
Troy Maxson fails in accomplishing his role as a supportive father and husband in his family. In Fences, Wilson addresses the consequences of infidelity and its contribution to marriage failure. Things worsen at the death of Troy since the family breaks apart. Infidelity affects the degree of commitment to one’s relationship (Tsapelas et al., 175-195). In addition, extramarital affairs largely contributes to the lower degree of love shown by an individual towards their primary partner. This is demonstrated in the poor affection between Troy and his wife Rose.
African Americans are discriminated and treated as inferior, as depicted in Wilson’s Fences. For instance, they are not allowed to drive trucks like their fellow white men. Instead, they are only allowed to do lifting work (Wilson 4). They are also threatened with consequences of being fired when they question the unjust treatment.
August Wilson illustrates the unjust treatment of African Americans and how its influences employment. For example, Troy cannot earn a living despite being a better player than majority of his white counterparts simply because he is an African American. He also discourages his son Cory from pursuing his interest in football due to the fear that he might end up disappointed in baseball as he was. Several African American literature publications, similarly, show racial discrimination and its impact on equality in the society (Umulkhulsum 25).
Another instance of discrimination is that African Americans were identified with specific states, in which they had lived as slaves for decades. These slave states included Georgia, Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. August Wilson further illustrates the immense embarrassment that blacks are made to go through, even for simple mistakes like stealing a watermelon. This is evident at the beginning of the drama in the conversation between Troy and Bono.
On the theme of racial discrimination, Fences portrays two sets of characters who bear distinct mindsets. Troy, represents the people who are conscious of the ongoing changes, progress, and the freedom that awaits. That explains his determination to pursue justice at all costs, including risking being fired. The other group of characters is still tied to the sour, segregationist past in America. Such characters include those employees who are afraid of Troy’s actions of demanding justice and the consequences of such actions on their jobs.
August Wilson uses lucid descriptions and illustrations in Fences to portray Troy Maxson’s refusal to accept and bear that racial relations have improved significantly since his childhood. The discrimination of African Americans is deep rooted from the days of slavery. This is why African Americans are associated with the Southern States.
The society in Fences has developed the notion that treating African Americans as inferior is, perhaps, normal. This explains the fear and worry exhibited by Troy’s workmates on from his acts of pursuing justice and equal treatment of all employees.
Troy is disturbed by the injustices arising from the discrimination of black Americans. He pushes for change of laws that deny equal opportunities to both white and the African American people. However, the support he gets from his fellow colleagues is minimal. They are all scared of the consequences of pushing for equal treatment- being fired.
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August Wilson’s choice of characters fits well with the themes in Fences. The choice of Troy Maxson, his family, friends, and their interactions with the white society supports the theme of discrimination against African Americans. For instance, African American men are assumed to be incapable of learning how to drive trucks and are left to only do manual work. In addition, the choice of the title Fences in the context of Troy’s homestead is both realistic and symbolic. However, in both cases, the title Fences largely revolves around the theme of family.
Tsapelas, Irene, Helen E. Fisher, and Arthur Aron. “Infidelity: When, where, why.” The dark side of close relationships II (2011): 175-195.
Umulkhulsum, Arije Yetunde. Racism and Oppression in Black American Literature: An Example of Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Diss. Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, (2011):
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