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Fences Drama Essay


Fences by August Wilson: Introduction

The play Fences by August Wilson is concerned with the myth of the failed American dream. The play opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1985. It was an enormous success and claimed the Pulitzer Prize for August Wilson in 1987. How black people were deprived of their legitimate right to share the American dream is the main issue of this play.


August Wilson (1945-2005)

By the same token, the play does not hesitate to present a slice of life in a black tenement in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Fences is the study about the race and the family relationship during the transition period of late 20th century. Wilson portrays black man's life in the white community where dreams cannot be realized.

The play is also about the change. When people's attitude or mentality changes, the change in real sense occurs. One should accept change and should prepare oneself to get the opportunity. Troy’s mind embedded with bitter past experience cannot change his mind and remains skeptic throughout the life and creates problem in the father son relationship.

Its main character, Troy Maxson, is a garbage collector who has taken great pride in keeping his family together and providing for them. When the play opens he and his friend Bono are talking about Troy's challenge to the company and the union about black's ability to do the same easy work that whites do. Troy's rebellion and frustration set the tone of the entire play: he is looking for his rights, and at age fifty-three, he had missed many opportunities to get what he deserves.

Troy's struggle for fairness becomes virtually mythic as he describes his wrestling with death during a bout with pneumonia in 1941. He describes a three-day struggle in which he eventually overcame his foe. Troy, a good baseball player who was relegated to the Negro leagues, sees death as nothing but a fastball, and he could always deal with a fastball. Both Bono and Troy's wife, Rose, show an intense admiration for him as he describes his ordeal.

The father-son relationship that begins to take a central role in the drama is complicated by strong feelings of pride and independence on both sides. Troy's son Cory wants to play football, and Troy wants him to work on the fence he's mending. Cory's youthful enthusiasm probably echoes Troy's own youthful innocence, but Troy resents it in Cory, Seeing it as partly responsible for his own predicament, Cory can't see his father's point of view - and feels that he is exempt from the kind of prejudice his father suffered.

The agony of the father-son relationship, their misperceptions of each other, persist through the play. Rose's capacity to cope with the deepest of Troy's anxieties - his fear of death - is one of her most important achievements in the play. At the end of the play Rose demands that Cory gives Troy the respect he deserves, as though Cory's anger and inexperience make it all but impossible for him to see his father as anything other than an oppressor. Cory feels that he must say no to his father once, but Rose will not let him deny his father. When the play ends with Gabe's fantastic ritualistic dance, the audience feels a sense of closure, of spiritual finish.

Winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, a Tony Award, and a Pulitzer Prize, Fences is among the most honored plays by any American of August Wilson’s generation. Set in 1957, it is one entry in Wilson’s cycle of ten plays representing the African American struggle during the ten decades of the twentieth century. Wilson wrote as a self-proclaimed Black Nationalist, but his mature plays were enthusiastically received by multiracial audiences, and Wilson recorded the pleasure he experienced when an eighty-seven-year-old Yugoslavian man spoke of his identification with Wilson’s characters. Wilson’s work delved so deeply into the world he knew that what he found there spoke far beyond his particular experience.

Certainly an awareness of the history of the oppression and exploitation suffered by African Americans plays a significant part in Wilson’s work. In Fences, the white baseball owners who have denied Troy and others their opportunity to play in the major leagues and the sanitation department officials who reserve the driving jobs for whites impose limits on black aspirations. Wilson refuses, however, to grant the oppressors and exploiters a place at the heart of African American life. Beyond question, they often place limiting external conditions upon that life. Wilson is concerned, though, not with the surrounding conditions of African American life but with the life itself. African Americans have, in Wilson’s eyes, their own identity, dignity, and significance. Troy Maxson is not defined by the limits that are imposed on him by a white-dominated society. His struggle is in part against those limits, to be sure. It is also, however, a struggle against his own demons. In the course of that struggle, he finds his strength. That is why his failure has the force of tragedy.

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