Wilson, August. Fences.
Summary & Analysis
Set in a small yard of an old house in an industrial city neighbourhood. May be identified as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The yard is partially fenced. There is a large porch in need of paint and two cheap chairs. A ball of rags hangs from a tree branch, a baseball bat leans against the tree.
1957. European immigrants have established themselves in the industrial cities of America and contributed to their growth. The descendants of African slaves who came to the cities from the South were prevented from making their dreams of better life true by racism. They could not get jobs and lived on river banks under bridges in poor shacks.
Act One, Scene One
Friday night, pay day. Troy Maxson, aged fifty-three, is a hard-working honest black man. Jim Bono has been his friend for some thirty years. Friday night is the time when they meet at Troy's yard to drink and talk. The dialogue of the play is rendered in a very natural black dialect. Troy is a great talker and a commonsensical philosopher. He stoically takes his life as it comes, but he is sceptical of the chances of a black man to get along in the world. Troy talks vigorously and argues passionately. He always has some stories to tell. He is compared to Uncle Remus, the fictional wise old black story-teller.
Both Troy and Bono work as garbage collectors. Troy has troubles with their employer, Mr Rand, because he complained that only white men can drive the truck while blacks are allowed to do the lifting only. The men discuss Troy's amorous inclinations. Though he has behaved well since he married Rose, he now pursues the young Alberta. Rose is ten years younger than her husband and her devotion to him stems from a succession of abusive men and her recognition of the limited possibilities she would have without him. They have been married for eighteen years.
Troy's oldest son from his previous marriage, the thirty-four-year old Lyons, comes to borrow ten dollars from Troy. Lyons likes to call himself a musician, but he is unemployed. Troy could get him a job as garbage collector, but Lyons is too proud and too devoted to his music to do such work. Troy reacts at Lyon's request for the loan with a story about his having seen the devil. It had the form of a white man who offered him credit for the furniture that Troy needed. It was fifteen years ago and until now, Troy must send the man ten dollars each month. At least Troy claims he does so, but Rose denies it. Troy refuses to give Lyons the money but he hands his pay to Rose and she gives the ten dollars to Lyons.
Act One, Scene Two
The following morning. Rose is hanging up clothes in the yard and singing a song asking Jesus to protect her as a fence. Troy is in bad mood. He reproaches Rose for throwing away money, however little, on playing numbers. The black neighbour Pope set up a restaurant from the money he had won in numbers but Troy criticizes him for toadying white guests and forgetting his own race. Troy disapproves of the absence of his son, Cory, for his football training because he wanted his help with fencing the yard. Troy used to be an excellent baseball player; he tends to talk about his life in terms of a baseball game. He could not earn his living by baseball because of the colour of his skin. He cannot accept the fact that times have changed and now even black men have their chance at sports. He distrusts Cory's hopes to get somewhere with football playing.
Troy's younger brother, Gabriel, appears with a basket of foul fruits and vegetables. He was wounded in the Second World War in his head and believes himself to be the Archangel Gabriel. Troy was to the War too, he faced death and defeated it, so that he is no more afraid of dying. Gabriel runs around chasing hellhounds and carrying a trumpet so that he could let St Peter know when it is time to open the gates to heaven. Gabriel got three thousand dollars for having the metal plate in his head. Troy used the money to purchase his house. Gabriel was apparently not capable to manage the money himself. Now Gabriel does not want to live with Troy any more and he rents himself two rooms from Miss Pearl. Gabriel is happy to have a place of his own and proudly shows his key to Troy. Troy, annoyed with everyone, leaves for the Taylors' pub.
Act One, Scene Three
Four hours later. Cory comes back from his training. He is not surprised at Troy's absence. Troy has been planning to do the fence for several weeks but then he always left to the Taylors' without doing anything. Troy arrives and makes Cory help him with the fence. Cory wonders whether Troy is not going to buy a TV set. Troy says that as soon as he earns money enough, he is going to have the roof fixed rather than to buy a TV. Cory would rather have the TV and repair the roof himself. Troy refuses the idea of buying anything on credit.
Cory pleads to be allowed to keep on playing football. His coach Zellman is sending a college recruiter to Troy, who is to sign the permission papers. Troy refuses and orders Cory to start the job at the A&P supermarket which Mr Stawicki holds for him. Cory opposes that he can work at the weekends and keep playing football at the same time. Troy is convinced that racism in sports is so deeply rooted that it would not enable a coloured man to get anywhere. He claims that his own promising career at baseball was put an end to by discrimination, though in fact Troy was too old to play any major competition.
Troy's relationship to Cory is not affectionate. Cory wonders whether Troy likes him at all, at which Troy responds that he is acting on his responsibility to his family by feeding him, clothing him, and providing him shelter. Troy is trying hard to keep on going with his life and he has no emotions left. He does not think that he is obliged to like his son as long as he does his duty in providing for his physical needs.
Act One, Scene Four
Friday, two weeks later. Troy arrives in high spirits from his interview with his employer, who responded to his complaints by promoting him to a truck driver. Troy does not have a driving licence but he does not see any problem in it. Lyons arrives to return the ten dollars he borrowed from Troy, but Troy does not want to accept the money, so it is up to Rose to take it. Lyons invites Troy to see his musical performance, but Troy is not interested.
Troy's father behaved terribly to his eleven children. He was a selfish man, but at least he did not desert his family. Unlike his wives, who could not stand him and all ran off, one after another. Troy left his father's poor farm at the age of fourteen. He was whipped severely when his father discovered that he was with a girl instead of working in the field. Troy found out that his father wanted to have the thirteen-year-old girl to himself and he attempted to return him the whipping. He failed, so he ran away for the city.
It was 1918. Coloured people could get neither a job nor a place to live in the city. Troy lived under a bridge in a shack made out of sticks and tarpaper. He had to steal in order not to die of hunger. He accidentally killed a man by a robbery and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In the prison he met Bono and learnt to play baseball. His first wife, Lyons's mother, did not wait for him, so he married Rose. Rose helped him to reform and he never returned to his criminal career.
Rose pleads on behalf of Cory, but Troy does not want to hear about letting him play. Troy found out that Cory does not work at the weekends at the A&P as he promised. Troy wants to see Cory in a secure job. Cory arrives from his training angry with Troy who told his coach that Cory would not play football any more. Cory believes that Troy spoilt the only chance he had just because he did not have the chance himself.
Act Two, Scene One
The following morning. Gabriel was arrested for disturbing the peace. Troy pays his bail. Troy makes Cory saw wood for the fence. He wonders why Rose wants to have the yard fenced, as there is nothing valuable to be stolen. Bono suggests that Rose does not want to keep anyone out but that she rather wishes to keep her family in. Bono tries to discourage Troy from his affair with Alberta because he does not want Rose to be hurt. Rose is a good woman. Troy responds by criticizing Bono's behaviour to his own wife, Lucille, whom Bono promised to buy a refrigerator but did not do so until now. Bono is going to buy the refrigerator as soon as Troy finishes building his fence.
When alone with Rose, Troy tells her that he is going to be a father of an illegitimate child. Rose is surprised and desperate. Troy attempts to explain to her that his lover is his way of escape from the problems of his everyday hard life. Rose does not accept this explanation. She also had her dreams and also often wished to escape from her routine, but she invested all she had in Troy and devoted herself fully to her husband. Rose blames Troy for taking only and not giving anything away. Troy gets angry and grabs her arm. Rose cries out of pain, when Cory appears in the yard. He strikes Troy to protect his mother.
Act Two, Scene Two
Six months later. Troy started going from his work to the pub rather than home. Rose misses him and wishes that he spent some time with her. Troy refuses, saying he has the right to enjoy his life. He does not consider Rose's right to enjoy her own life.
Gabriel was taken away to a mental hospital. Rose suspects that Troy had signed the papers to get rid of him. Half of Gabriel's money goes to the hospital but the other half remains to Troy. Troy insists on having signed the bail papers only.
Alberta gives birth to a girl but she dies at childbirth. Troy is angry at Death, personified as an enemy in war, and decides to fence his yard so as to prevent Death from taking away anything or anyone else that he loves. He is ready to face Death only when he comes for him.
Act Two, Scene Three
Three days later. Troy brings Alberta's baby and asks Rose to help him with taking care for her. Rose accepts the child for her own but tells Troy that he has now no wife.
Act Two, Scene Four
Two months later. Rose takes care for Alberta's girl, Raynell, but is estranged from Troy. Cory graduated but he cannot find any job. He regards his father with silent hostility. Bono seems to be estranged from Troy too. Since Troy's promotion to a driver, they do not work together in one area. Their regular Friday sessions have been abolished. Troy finished the fence, so Bono bought his wife the refrigerator.
Troy sits on the steps of the house, drinks, and sings his father's tune about his dog Blue. Cory wants to enter the house but Troy does want to clear from the steps unless Cory excuses himself. Cory refuses to do so. He fears his father no more and reproaches him for what he did to Gabriel and to Rose. They fight and Troy proves to be the stronger of the two. Cory leaves the house as Troy bid him.
When he is alone, Troy picks up the baseball bat which Cory used for the fight and challenges Death to a life-and-death duel. The history seems to be repeating itself. Troy proved to be as selfish as his father and on his way to end up a lonely man who frightened from himself his wife, his son, and his friend.
Act Two, Scene Five
1965. The morning of Troy's funeral. Troy fell dead when he was batting the ball of rags which always hung in the yard. Lyons and Bonnie, who never appears in the play in person, have been split now for four years, since Troy retired. Lyons has been sentenced for three years in workhouse for cashing other people's cheques. He is trying to go on and his music is what keeps him alive.
Cory appears in a marine corporal's uniform. He is going to be married. Cory is happy to see his mother, but he refuses to attend the funeral. Just one time in his life he wants to say no to Troy. He wants to get rid of Troy's shadow which keeps on haunting him. Rose does not think that this is going to be of any help to Cory. She believes that the shadow is Cory himself because the son naturally resembles the father. Troy wanted for Cory to become all that he could not become himself, but at same time he wanted Cory to be all what he actually was. Rose believes that Troy meant well, though he did harm in fact. She herself realized only too late that she had given up her own self for Troy, but she accepted it as her choice of life. She is to bring up Raynell in the same way, that is giving away the best what is in her.
Raynell is now seven years old. She does not remember Cory, but the two are united by the remembrance of Troy. They sing together Troy's favourite song about the death of the dog Blue. Gabriel is released from the hospital for the funeral. He tries to blow his trumpet, as a man who has been waiting some twenty years for this one occasion. The trumpet does not blow, for the mouthpiece is missing. Gabriel starts a ritual dance which opens the gates of heaven for Troy.
AuthorWilson, August. (1945 - 2005).
First PerformedWaterford: Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, 1983.
Wilson, August. Fences. 1983. NY: Plume, 1986.