FENCESby: August Wilson





Character Analysis

Troy Maxson

Troy is an independent black man who plays the role of the protagonist in the story. He is a parent of his sons Cory and Lyons and is married to his wife, Rose. Though all seems normal in their family, Lyons is actually born out of wedlock and has parted from the rest of his family to earn a living on his own.Troy does not hold a major grudge against him, but to some point, is not completely happy that he has to fund his son periodically. Although there is a very minimal tension between Lyons and Troy, the true struggle lies between Troy and Cory. See, earlier in his career, Troy was a rising baseball player with the skills of a truly gifted athlete. The problem that he encountered however, was that of his skin color. He was not able to play for a major league team, until it was too late. By the time the majors began allowing African Americans to play baseball in the big leagues, Troy had already passed his peak and was showing signs of aging. This angered Troy a great deal and is the main root of his negativity towards his son's aspirations towards becoming professional football player. This negativity starts off as mild cynicism, but leads to the main character flaw present in Troy. His anger mixed with other emotions from other events in the play lead to his own downfall. A key quote that truly defined Troy's character was, "I don't care what nobody else say. I'm the boss ... do you understand? I'm the boss around here. I dot the only saying what counts." This specifically references Troy's demeaning behavior and overly aggressive nature. Which is also his overlying character flaw. Though all of what was mentioned so far may have had negative connotations, Troy did also have a few respectable traits. His versatility and exuberance is greatly admired by those around him, especially when he applies for the job that black people were not usually allowed to hold. He shows enthusiasm for what he does and has a great passion for what he undertakes. Although he may nit be the coolest tempered, he does have a few traits that can be modeled.

Rose Maxson

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Rose is Troy's second wife, she married him when he got out of prison. She is a 1950's housewife, she stays at home to clean and cook, while Troy is the family's breadwinner. Rose is a caring and sympathetic mother who urges Tory to let their son, Cory, play football because it makes him happy. Sometimes her sympathy puts her at a disadvantage though, for example, one of her most important quote that shows her sympathy is, “Okay, Troy...you're right. I'll take care of your baby for you...cause...like you say...she's innocent...," it showed that she could not refuse Tory when he asked her to help take care of Raynell, even though she is the product of Tory's affair, because Raynell is innocent of his sin. She asks Troy to build a fence around their house, it was never said exactly why she wanted a fence but it was suggested that she wanted to keep Cory and Troy close to home and her love. One of Rose's main strength is her independence, she constantly tells Tory to not make inappropriate sexual comments when there is company around and also makes sure that he doesn't exaggerates his stories, something that women in that era didn't do. Her independence also helps her leave Troy, not physically divorce him but she makes it known that they are not a married couple anymore by completely ignoring him, when she finds out about his affair.

Jim Bono

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Jim Bono is normally referred to as “Bono” or “Mr. Bono” throughout the play. Bono and Troy first met in prison and ever since then, the two have been inseparable; Bono is Troy’s best friend and his “partner in crime”. The two worked together as garbage men and on Friday night’s, they drink together. It was in jail that Troy learned to play baseball; Bono is the only person who recalls the good times when Troy used to play baseball in the Negro Leagues. In act two, scene one, we see that Bono has always admired Troy through the excerpt, “I don’t learned a whole heal of things about life watching you. I don’t learned how to tell where the shit lies. How to tell it from the alfalfa. You done learned me a lot of things.” From these lines, we see that Bono sees Troy as somewhat of a role model. Bono is married to Lucille, who is also friends with Troy’s second wife, Rose. Bono is a responsible and caring character in the play Fences and always reminds Troy about what is right; however Troy refuses to listen to Bono’s opinions, specifically concerning the situation between his wife and mistress, which leads the two characters to end their friendship by the end of the play.

Cory Maxson

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Cory Maxson is the son of Rose and Troy Maxson. Cory is a teenage boy who attends a normal high school and he gets good grades and plays on the school football team. He is a man with many dreams, when he puts his head to something, he is determined to do it and he won't go back on his word. One of Cory's main weaknesses is that he is always arguing with his dad, until the point in which he is kicked outside of the house. The relationship between Troy and Cory really went downhill when Troy told his son that he would not meet the recruiter so he could continue playing football. One of Cory's main strength's is that he takes responsibility for his actions and he doesn't run away from anything, he always listens to other and takes advice from them before acting on random thoughts. "The whole time I was growing up...living in his house...Papa was like a shadow that followed you everywhere. It weighed on you and sunk into your flesh. It would wrap around you and lay there until you couldn't tell which one you was anymore...I've got to find a way to get rid of that shadow, Mama" Through this quote we can see Cory's bravery and his responsibility and determination to accomplish something that he puts his mind to do.

Significant Themes


The effects of racial discrimination create a background for the plot of the play. Troy's main frustration toward his family is an indirect struggle against the societal norms that he is bound by. One of the things that constantly frustrates Troy, is the fact that he was too old to be drafted by the major leagues for baseball. His race/skin color prevented him from joining the majors until he was too old to be considered to play. Although it may seem like racial struggles hampered Troy's true, he was actually able to make something good out of it and use it as a motivation to succeed and accomplish more than any other colored man at the time. In Act One Scene Four, Troy wins his case against the commissioner's office. Before this point, Troy had been hired by a garbage disposal company, and Bono and he realized that the colored men along with themselves were subject to a limit as to how far they could be promoted. Frustrated by this, Troy decided to send in a complaint to the commissioner's office to apply for a white only position. His fight against racial prejudice motivated him to accomplish more that that of any other.


Every character in Fences is trying to fulfill his or her duties. Troy makes sure that his basic fatherly and husbandly duties are met; he provides his family with a roof under their heads, clothing on their backs, and food in their mouths. In Act One Scene Three, he even lectures Cory that the reason he takes care of his family not necessarily because he likes them but because it is his responsibility. Rose takes her role as the housewife seriously, in every scene of the play Rose is offering to cook someone food, which is the basic duty of a housewife. Bono feels that Troy is wrong in having an affair and feels obligated to tell Troy whenever the opportunity arises. Cory is the only character in this novel whose duty does not involve others, but only himself. His mission is to simply be true to himself rather than what his father wants. He does this by wanting to play football, even though his father does not approve of it, and finally in the end by refusing to attend his father’s funeral , because he had to make a final stand against Troy.


Dissatisfaction is evident throughout the entire play through Troy. Troy is unhappy with the failure of his baseball career, with his job as a garbage collector, and unhappy with his wife. In act one, scene one of the play, Troy says, “All I want them to do is change the job description. Give everybody a chance to drive the truck”. From this quote we can see that Troy is dissatisfied with his job and with the way his job treats workers differently according to race. Another instance in act one, scene one that depicts Troy’s dissatisfaction with his life is the following quote: “I’m talking about if you could play ball them they ought to have to let you play. Don’t’ care what color you were.” Troy is dissatisfied that he was not allowed to play baseball because of his race. Troy’s dissatisfaction with society and the way his life has turned out because of society is the main problem in the story because this is what leads him to pursue Alberta and ultimately, destroy the relationships he has with people around him, an example being his relationship with Bono.

The American Dream

Troy is dissatisfied with his job, complying to the fact that he didn't achieve his goal of finding pursuit of happiness through the American Dream. Troy has the desire to be an individual and have a set description of himself so everyone can see it, but he fails to do so and because of this, his expectations for what any African American can accomplish, is anything besides them succeeding through the American Dream. For example, like father like son, Cory wanted to play a major league sport , but because his father had an incident in which he met with failure, he would not let his son at least attempt to achieve his American Dream. In Act one Scene one Troy says "He ought to go and get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living" Troy is basically saying that Cory's view of his future is outrageous and that he should not focus on sports because that led him to no where. Through the idea of not achieving his own American Dream, Troy remains confident that no African-American can accomplish anything great in this world.

Important Vocab

PAGES 1-25

1."I liked to fell out!" (p.2) - I would like to know.
2."That ain't no paper job." (p.2) - Not a tough job to do.
3."You just come along too early." (p.9) - Refers to how Troy missed playing for the majors because he started too early.
4."Done wrassled with him." (p.10) - To wrestle or fight with/against.
5."A fastball on the outside corner." (p.11) - Something easy to conquer.
6."Rogue." (p.13) - Something dishonest.
7."Destitute." (p.16) - Lacking all money and resources.
8."Guile" (p.17) - A cunning or deceitful quality.
9."Prodigious" (p.23) - Very impressive or amazing.
10."Integral" (p.25) - Forming an important part of something.

Pages 26-50

1) “She come by and cooked me up a whole mess of flapjacks.” Pg 27 - pancakes
2) “I ain’t studying you.” Pg 30 – I’m not worried about you; you aren’t worth my time.
3) “You’ve got to take the crooked with the straights.” Pg 37 – You have to accept the good with the bad.
4) “Slow, methodical.” pg 40 – Painstakingly slow and careful, deliberate.
5) “Earl got some spikes.” Pg 41 – Football sneakers with nail like protrusions on the bottom of the sneaker to improve traction.
6) "Liked to bit his tongue!" Pg 42 - To hold back from saying something.
7) “Now you don’t have to hassle them people no more.” Pg 44 - To dispute, to bother.
8) “Better get ready for the Judgment!” pg 47 – At the end of time, God will come down and judge each individual for his/her good deeds and sins.
9) “That boy walking around here smelling his piss.” Pg 49 – He is still a child and cannot take care of himself.
10) “Just moving on through. Searching out the New Land.” Pg 50 – Constantly moving from place to place while having sex with various women in each town.

Pages 50-75

1. provocative (p.51)- deliberately aimed at exciting or annoying people
2. "I picked up the reins and commenced to whupping him"(p.52)- I picked up the leash and whipped him
3. "walking blues"(p.54)- leaving one's family behind to start fresh
4. "hellhounds"(p.57)- a supposed fiend or fiendish person
5. "eating beans"(p.61)- a phrase that is said when you run out of money and you can't afford any expensive food.
6. specious(p.63)- apparently true but is actually false
7. turbulent(p.65)- chaotic and restless
8. smelling his piss(p.67)-someone that is still a child and is yet to grow up into this world
9. fretting(p.69)- to express concern of something or someone
10. "Bit his tongue"(p.73)- to prevent yourself from saying something you don't/didn't want to say

PAGES 76-101

1) "I ain’t gonna fall down on my vigilance." (pg 77) – The state or quality of being valiant; watchfulness.
2) "She ain’t but a wee bittle old thing." (pg 78) – Small or tiny
3) "She ain’t but a wee bittle old thing." (pg 78) – A word that accompanies “wee” used to emphasize an object’s small amount.
4) "I can dance a waltz that’ll make you dizzy." (pg 97) – An excerpt from a conversation between Rose and Cory. Rose uses this expression to describe the time her and Troy met; she tells Cory that Troy told her this. This expression means that Troy had the intention to make his future relationship with Rose amazing; the two would dance and get so caught up in dancing to the point where they are both dizzy.
5) "I can’t taste nothing hallelujah." (pg 89) – A word used to show praise or joy.
6)" I’m gonna go down and get pallbearers…" (pg 92) – People who carry the coffin at a funeral.
7) "I dug his grave with a silver spade." (pg 99) – A silver spade was a giant power shovel used for mining.
8) "A dance of atavistic signature and ritual." (pg 101) – Reverting to or suggesting the characteristics of a primitive type.
9) "I’m not going to papa’s funeral." (page 96) – This word is of importance because Cory feels that not going to Troy’s funeral will make him a man.
10) "She’s liable to everything." (pg 76) – Legally responsible.

Significant Scenes

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One important scene from Act One Scene Three is Troy lecturing Cory on ‘the real world’. Troy justifies his reason for not signing Cory’s permission papers to play college football. To Troy, Cory is just wasting his time trying to play in the major league because all he would be doing is warming up the bench and his time would be put into much greater use if he just continued working instead of even going to college. This scene is crucial because it shows Troy’s mentality that racism will prevent Cory from succeeding in college and in the major leagues, something that usually happened during that era. Although some may see Troy not signing the papers as him being bitter about his own past and refuses to let Cory exceed him, but in reality, Troy is showing that he cares for Cory and does not want him to be rejected and hurt.

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In Act One Scene Four, Troy wins his case against the commissioner's office. Before this point, Troy had been hired by a garbage disposal company, and Bono and he realized that the colored men along with themselves were subject to a limit as to how far they could be promoted. Frustrated by this, Troy decided to send in a complaint to the commissioner's office to apply for a white only position. His fight against racial prejudice motivated him to accomplish more that that of any other. This is kind of the silver lining in all of the play. Fences' sub-plot is all about the fight against racial inequality/unfairness. This new stake in the company give Troy a sense of racial hope and the will to further succeed in other areas of his life. Though he cannot put his life back on track near the end of the play, this slight glimmer of success is the over arching parallel to the coming success of the black population to gain their rights and equality.

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In act one scene five, we see Troy and Cory arguing with each other. Cory is mad at his father because his father told the school coaches and the recruiter that he was not going to play college football anymore. Cory explains to his father how this was the only chance that he had, and that he ruined it for him, but Troy would not listen to anything he said and gave plenty of excuses. Troy and Cory have an unpleasant conversation until Rose gets involved. Rose gets involved and sides with her son Cory, and argues with Troy telling him that he shouldn't have done such a thing. After all of the arguing, Cory has had enough and tells his father "Just cause you didn't have a chance! You just scared I'm gonna be better than you, that's all." Through this last statement the scene ends in suspense and shock that Cory has finally stood up to his father and told him what he has been doing wrong.


In act two, scene five readers find out that Troy has died from a heart attack. In the previous scene, Cory is kicked out of the house after a heated argument with Troy. Cory has been out of the house since then and after eight years, he returns for his father’s death. However, Cory refuses to attend the funeral because of what happened between him and Troy eight years prior. This is a significant scene because of the anger that Cory has towards his father even after eight years. With not wanting to attend Troy’s funeral, Cory tries to assert his manhood and rebel against Troy. However, Cory is ultimately proven wrong by Rose, who teaches him that not attending Troy’s funeral does not make him a man.

Significant Quotes

"Death ain't nothing but a fastball on the outside corner." (Act One, Scene One)
I first mentioned this quote in the important vocabulary section above, because it was a phrase that really did catch my eye. The play opens with this scene and shows Troy's over confidence and ultimate downfall in the play. Though he really isn't brought down by over-confidence, this act of depraving death and making himself greater than the inevitable was repeated twice through the play. Wilson seems to emphasize this specific quote and is trying to get the point across that the only reason Troy is unhappy, is because of his own doings and wrong doings.

"[Troy's] gonna be the first colored driver. Ain't got to do nothing but sit up there and read the paper like them white fellows." (Act One, Scene Four. Said by Bono)

Although Troy has faced a lot of unjust done to him during his days of playing baseball when he was constantly benched, not because of his lack of skill but because of his skin color, finally some justice is being given to him. Usually the company only allows white drivers while the black men ride in the back and pick up the garbage, now Troy will become the first colored driver. This is a small racial barrier that has been crossed but it a barrier nevertheless. It is also the only racial barrier that is overcome in the book.

“You got to take the crookeds with the straights. That’s what Pap used to say.” (Act two, scene five. Said by Lyons)
Lyons tells Cory this saying Troy used to say when the two remember him. The meaning of this quote is that in life, you must take into account the negative aspects and the positive aspects of a situation. In other words, with the good comes bad and vice versa. Lyons is saying this because of Troy’s funeral. Lyon’s accepts Troy as his father, no matter how bad of a father he was, as the “bad” and the turnout of his life as the “good”.

"He ought to go and get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living" (Troy)
Troy tells Rose this saying that Cory has no role in achieving a career in football and that he should just do something that he is guaranteed to make some type of living out of. Troy is attempting to force his son out of the direction that he was in and failed; he wants to do good for his son, but he is actually hurting him. Troy is basically saying that Cory's dreams are outrageous and that he should not be focusing on sports but on something that will actually help him in life.


Family Dis-function

The underlying disunion in the Maxson's family is a major issue of social concern and can be directly related back to the racial insurrection during the time period. Black people of the time were standing up for their rights and wanted to be free from persecution from the white man. The characters in the family each had their own demons to fight. To be more specific, Troy was fighting his inner self and indirectly caused to fight those around him. Rose was fighting between standing up for son, and respecting the authority of her husband. Cory is fighting with his father to become part of a higher level of interscholastic activities. Each member of the family represents a more overarching theme in America. The overall fight for personal recognition and independence defines American ideals and standards. The birth of America came directly out of the loins of insurrection and personal gain. We fought for our freedom and along the way gained recognition as aggressors. This is the definition of the American way and defines our identity as a race.

Racial Inequality

From the interactions of Troy and his feelings about certain situations, readers see that the African-American population was greatly discriminated against. The African-American community had a difficult life due to the fact that they were not given the same opportunities as white Americans. For example, Troy is upset that he is unable to play professional baseball and the underlying reason behind this is his skin color. The part of the play where this is evident is in act one, scene one when Troy says, “I’m talking about if you could play ball then they ought to have let you plat. Don’t care what color you were. ” Another example of racial inequality would be in Act 1, scene 1 when Troy says, “All I want them to do is change the job description. Give everybody a chance to drive the truck.” From this quote, we can see that he was not given the same opportunity as the white American. These examples show that racial inequality was a huge issue of the tie period that the play took place in and that the African-American community felt restricted due to it.


One classic American identity, is opportunity, after all she is ‘American the Land of Opportunity.’ One of the main reasons people immigrated to the United States of American was to escape the oppression they were facing in their home country. But America is not perfect and there is still a lot of unequal opportunities. For example, in sports, during Troy’s sport career he did not have the opportunity to play as much as he deserved to because he was black. And later in Troy’s garbageman career he did not have the same opportunity as the white man, who were allowed to actually drive the vans while the blacks sat in the back and collected the garbage. Although America may not get it right on the first try, she always tries to fix any problems that arise. Later, after Troy’s baseball life was washed up, Jackie Robinson became the first African American who played in the Major Leagues of baseball, and he actually played instead of sitting on the sidelines. Troy was also granted the same opportunity, after he filed a complaint, to drive the van alongside the white men. America is, in fact, the land of fair opportunity, even though it may not be presented at first.

American Dream and the Economy

An issue of social concern is the idea of the American Dream. Many people come to America because they believe that they will have a lot of money as well as the freedom to do what they want. These people believe that the economy is great and that they will be able to make enough money to live a wonderful life in this place so called "America". For example, Rose tells Troy "Cory done went and got recruited by a college football team." Cory realized that he was in a different place and that he could achieve his dream of playing in a major league sport. Although he feels like he could do something great in his life, his father, Cory pushes him around his goal and makes sure that he never gets a chance to attempt at the dream of his. Troy then says "He ought to go and get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living". Because Troy knows about the economy and how poor it has become, he doesn't want his son risking a career in a sport, rather, he wants him to get a skillful job that will help him live the American Dream to its fullest. The American Dream and the Economy affects the representation and perception of America because it makes America look like a land of gold and diamonds. Through this perception, other people rush to come to America to live a life like a King, not knowing that it's economy is not that great. Troy tries to show this to his son, but Cory takes the help negatively and begins hating his father.