Fences by August Wilson


Fazal Choudhary, Kelvin Okah, Mamadou Ndiaye, Reinaldo Garcia, Javier Estrada

Character Depiction / Commentary:

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Rose Maxson

Rose Maxson is Troy’s loving and faithful wife who genuinely cares for her family, “...Her devotion to him stems from her recognition of the possibilities of her life without him...She recognizes Troy’s spirit as a fine and illuminating one and she either ignores or forgives his faults, only some of which she recognizes.” (4). In this opening description it perfectly represents Rose's steadfast devotion and morality as a wife and woman. Rose is also tolerant of Troy’s crude humor at certain times but definitely scolds him for it. She plays the numbers and sees it as something from which good can come but Troy sees this as pure foolishness because she is throwing away money. However, she also seems religiously oriented because she frequently talks about how Troy is lying and reminds him of the consequences, “It ought to matter. You going around talking about having truck with the devil… God’s the one you gonna have to answer to. He’s the one gonna be at the Judgment.” (16). She also talks about asking Jesus to protect her everyday and serve as this “fence” around her that shields her from harm. She is at heart a good person because she agrees to raise and look after Raynell who isn’t even her child, not only that but also encourages Cory to pursue his dreams of becoming a football player. Despite fervently sticking by Troy’s side all along her fatal flaw was losing grip on her own life and losing herself in the life she had taken up with Troy which led up to Troy’s infidelity. All in all her character possessed such deep compassion and understanding, despite the hurt caused by Troy she admits, “I don’t know if he was right or wrong… but I do know he meant to do more good than he meant to do harm.” (97).

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Cory Maxson

Cory Maxson is the son of Troy Maxson and Rose Maxson. In the text, he always seems to disagree with his father and they get into lots of heated arguments. These arguments ultimately lead to Cory being kicked out by his father. The story doesn't give any great concrete evidence of the way Cory looks. However, I imagine that he would be of a darker skin complication since his parents are both African American. I imagine him to be tall and well-built because in the story he is an athlete. His face is probably stern and his posture is straight, from being the military. The story says, "His posture is that of a military man, and his speech has a clipped sternness.The quote, “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 was you anymore....I've got to find a way to get rid of that shadow, Mama,” describes Cory’s need to be different from his father. His need to, in a sense, be better than his father. He wishes to break away from the overcast his father has put on him and his mother. This quote also depicts one of Cory’s greatest strengths, his ability to accomplish anything he puts to mind. His determination, I believe, is what drove him to the military and his determine is what helped him ascend to the rank of a Marine Corporal. His weakness however, is the broken relationship he has with his father hence why he refused to go to the funeral at first. Since he was unable to make a strong connection, he never get to see that world from a different perspective, he loses key moments of secondary experience.

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Lyon Maxson

Lyon Maxson is the eldest son of Troy Maxson. He is an aspiring musician who, although talented, has fallen on hard times. The first time we see Lyon is on a Friday, Troy’s payday, when he asks Troy for money. Although Lyon clearly has difficulty making a living, he is ambitious, and reminds Troy Maxson of himself, back when he played in the Negro Leagues. Troy disproves of Lyon’s profession, looking down on him and demanding that he seek out a “real job”. Lyon is in a relationship with a girl named Bonnie, who we never meet. Lyon relationship with his father isn’t helped by the fact that he isn’t the primary breadwinner in the relationship, which to Troy, makes Lyons a less of a man. His strength is obviously his ambitious nature and his “I can” mentality. His weakness is that he can be too headstrong, and fails to realizes that Troy is simply trying to spare Lyon from the pain of failure, which he received when he [Troy] failed at baseball. Lyon’s entire personality can be summed up with this quote, “You and me is two different people, Pop”. Lyon will stop at nothing to achieve success in a musical career.

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Troy Maxson

Troy Maxson is the main protagonist of this play. He is the father of Cory and Lyon Maxson and is married to Rose Maxson. His most polarizing quality is his stubborn attitude. If someone does not share his opinion on a certain matter, then he tends to feel disdain for that person. This standoffish attitude may have stemmed from his past failures. He was an aspiring baseball player and he played in the Negro Leagues in hopes of someday making it to the Major Leagues. However, he fell short of his goal and he has been bitter ever since. His failures cause him to clash with his son Cory when Cory wants his blessing to play football in college. Troy Maxson is the epitome of a tragic hero. He starts off being appreciated and respected because of his tough past, but his questionable decisions lead readers to resent him. His biggest mistake was having an extramarital affair with a woman named Alberta. He ends up having a child with her, but she dies during childbirth. It only gets worse from there. His wife ignores him entirely and his son Cory walks out on him. He essentially let both of his sons slip away, as him and his oldest son Lyons never had a strong relationship. He dies all alone, as his family gave him the cold shoulder and he never achieved his goal of playing in the Major Leagues which was ultimate undoing.

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Bono and Troy met each other while they were serving time in prison. Bono was Troy’s closest friend at the time in the play. Bono and Troy worked together hauling trash away for many years which helped them keep such a close relationship. But the two quickly drift apart after Troy successfully won a promotion and was able to drive the garbage trucks. Not only this but Bono finds out that Troy is having an affair with another woman. These two events serve to create a serious detachment between the two friends. Yet in the light of all this Bono acts as the voice of reason for Troy to tel Rose before it’s too late. Yet due to Troy’s stubbornness he refuses to do such a thing. Bono is very concerned with Troy’s promiscuity with another woman and the risk it poses to his friend’s marriage. Yet unlike Troy, Bono has a healthy and faithful relationship with his wife and it demonstrates that a man has the ability to change the direction of his life. Something the he truthfully wishes that Troy would do, not only for himself but, for the benefit of everyone he loves as well.

Themes With Quote Support:

The Disrupted Thought Processes of an African American Man:

“Like you? I go out of here every morning… bust my butt…putting up with them crackers everyday…cause I like you? You about the biggest fool I ever saw. It’s my JOB. It’s my responsibility! You understand that? A man got to take care of his family. You live in my house… sleep on my bed clothes…fill you belly up with my food… cause you my son. You my flesh and blood. Not ‘cause I like you! Cause it’s my duty to take care of you. I OWE a responsibility to you! Let’s get this straight right here… before it go along any further… I ain’t got to like you. Mr. Rand don’t five me money come payday cause he likes me. He gives me cause he OWE me. I done give you everything I had to give you. I gave you your life! Me and your mama worked that out between us. And liking your black ass wasn’t part of the bargain. Don’t try and go through life worrying about if somebody like you or not. You best be making sure they doing right by you. You understand what I’m saying, boy?”

The Rejection of a Boy’s Dream:

A constant issue that pops up throughout the play is Troy rejecting his son’s wish to play college football. Him and Cory constantly but heads over this because Troy is afraid that his son will end up failing just like him when he tried to play in the Major Leagues. Here is what Cory told his mother about how he felt of the whole situation; “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 was you anymore. I've got to find a way to get rid of that shadow, Mama.” - Act 2 Scene 5 Page 81

The Sacrifices of Black Women and Bonds to Womanhood:

“I been standing with you! I been right here with you, Troy. I got a life too. … Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me. … You not the only one who’s got wants and needs. But I held on to you, Troy. I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams ...and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn’t take me no eighteen years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and it wasn’t never gonna bloom. But I held on to you, Troy. I held you tighter. You was my husband. … You always talking about what you give … and what you don’t have to give. But you take too. You take … and don’t even know nobody’s giving!” (70-71).


Troy: “All right...Mr. Death…I’m gonna take me a fence and build it around this yard. See? I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See? You stay over there until you’re ready for me.” This accentuates the theme of Death as a recurring theme.When Troy’s mistress dies, Troy is caught off guard and feels as though Death snuck up on him. He resolves that next time Death comes around, that he would be ready for it. Act 2 Scene 2

"It's just...She gives me a different idea...a different understanding about myself. I can step out of this house and get away from the pressures and problems..."(Wilson 68) Troy throughout his whole life has never been able to truly enjoy the things that he loved most, including baseball. Like many other black american's at the time, it was a hard and enduring life, filled with hardships due to their skin color. It was obvious that Troy simply wanted to get away from all of his struggles, all of the bills he has to pay, all the people he has to deal with. "That's the way to go" (Wilson 101) This is the second to last line in the story where Gabriel opens up the heavens for Troy. This being the ultimate escape for Troy. He longer has to bear the hardships of his life since he's going to heaven where no hardships exist, allowing him to truly escape everything.

Important Vocabulary:

Pages 1-20

1. “Gin-talk”: Not quite gibberish but comprehensible, not closely related to observable facts.

2. “Having a truck with the devil”: To have dealings with or to be in the same league as the devil.

3. “That ain’t no paper job!”: A job that isn't necessarily difficult.

4. “Trumped up”: A false charge filed by the police when they can't get anything else on you.

5. “I liked to fell out!”: To want to know.

6. “You just come along too early”: Troy missing his chance to play professionally because of the time period and its constraints.

7. “Fastball on the outside corner”: Referring to death as not that big of a deal, like a pitch that Troy can easily knock out of the ballpark.

8. “Vigilant”: Carefully observant or attentive.

9. “Living the fast life”: A lifestyle that will land you dead or in jail at any given moment.

10. “Raising all kind of hell”: Making trouble just for the fun of it.

Pages 21-40

1. “Prodigious”: Impressive or amazing.

2. “Don’t nobody wanna be locked up”: Jailed.

3. “Hellhounds”: Fiendish beasts that serve as watchdogs of hell.

4. “Take the crooked with the straights”: Take or accept the good with the bad.

5. “Integral”: Necessary to make a whole complete.

6. “Slow, methodical”: Careful and deliberate.

7. “I ain’t studying you”: Not worth the time or worry.

8. “Doing right by you”: Fulfilling responsibility and paying what you owe.

9. “A lick of work”: A bit of work.

10. “Cooked me up a whole mess of flapjacks”: Pancakes.

Pages 41-60

1. “Spikes”: Referring to the bottom of football shoes that provide better grip and traction.

2. “Bit his tongue”: To stop yourself from saying something.

3. “Hassle”: To bother or express concern.

4. “Rogues”: Dishonest or troublemaker.

5. “Trumpet waiting on the judgement time”: The end of time, the day in which each individual will be judged by God for their deeds.

6. “Chinese music”: Foreign and unfamiliar to the ears.

7. “Smelling his piss”: Still a child and not grown up.

8. “Searching out the New Land”: Moving from one place to another, woman to woman.

9. “Walking blues”: Men that left their families and never looked back, just kept walking.

10. “Strike one”: Cory crossing the line and saying something he shouldn’t have.

Pages 61-100

1. “Whip through that wood”: Cut through the wood with ease and pure strength.

2. “Pick of the litter”: Choosing from a group based on what your heart is set on.

3 “No bad turn”: Doing something hurtful to someone.

4. “Stuck your foot in your mouth”: To say something that upsets or embarasses someone.

5. “Fretting”: To feel or express worry.

6. “A watched pot never boils”: You have to make and effort for something to happen.

7. “Scarce”: Hard to find or not many.

8. “Fatten their pockets”: Make money off of and use for personal gain.

9. “Pallbearers”: Funeral participant that helps to carry the casket of the deceased.

10. “Seen eye to eye”: To agree about something with someone else.

Specific Scene Analysis / Depiction:

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This is the scene where Troy is forced to admit his infidelity and has to tell Rose about his extramarital affair and about his getting Alberta (his mistress) pregnant. This was the moment the entire dynamic of the Maxson family changed. The proverbial “fence” around the Maxson family has been destroyed and the family has been broken. Troy’s betrayal means Rose can never trust him again, and since she was the glue that kept the family together, this moment saw the foundation of the family begin to crumble. This is when Rose sums up Troy’s character, saying that he is selfish , taking and taking without ever giving. - Act 2 Scene 1

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This image depicts the scene where Troy and Cory argue with each other after Cory punches Troy the chest. Cory punches Troy in the chest because he sees that Troy and Rose, his mother are having an argument outside and that their confrontation has gotten physical. This created another crack in the relationship between Cory and Troy. Troy claims that Cory is on his second strike and he is one strike away from being out. This altercation had been building up for a while and I bet that Cory let all of his emotions loose on that punch. He had been angry with his father for not allowing him to play college football and had been waiting for an opportunity to get back at his father. This image of symbolic of their relationship crumbling down.

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At the end of Act 2 Troy, after a bitter fight with Cory says, “I can’t taste nothing. Helluljah! I can’t taste nothing no more. Come on! It’s between you and me now! Come on! Any time you want! Come on! I be ready for you… but I ain’t gonna be easy.” Troy is literally welcoming death as if he is face to face with it and is taunting it while holding a bat as if he is about to swing it. All this time he has told stories of how he has wrestled with death and to him it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle. When he said, “I can’t taste nothing no more”, it was like this pivotal moment in which he is ready to meet his demise but not without a fight. Troy knows he has reached his limits and everything has officially gone to hell, he kicked Cory out and lost his beloved wife Rose. To him he doesn't have much left to live for and he visualizes this glorified ending in which he is holding his bat, his life, and swinging with all his might at death and all the misfortunes or the “crookeds” in life as he called them. In a sense Troy has come to terms with his end, no more responsibilities to family and no one left to answer to but God, as Rose used to say.

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In Act 2 Scene 4, Troy finally kicks Cory out the house and he waves his baseball bat as a symbol of his victory. This shows how clueless Troy really was. He had already messed up his family by cheating and now he is kicking out his son. The most disheartening part is that he felt accomplished. He feels that he has now beaten Cory and has now gained authority over his household This part of the story is when Troy’s family is finally broken down.
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In Act 2 Scene Five at the very end of the book Gabriel "finishes his dance and the gates of heaven stand open as wide as God's pocket," and then says, :That's the way that go." In this scene Gabriel attempted to play his trumpet, just like how God is to do on judgement day, but he fails due to a missing mouth peace. Yet he's determined to make St. Peter open the gates of heaven for Troy. He accomplishes opening the heaven by dancing. This is significant because now Troy is going to heaven, or it is hinted that he is since Gabriel opened it. Thus ending struggles between his family and friends and himself. Yet more importantly he is free from himself.

Analysis of a Significant Quote:

“Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the right corner”.

Troy being an avid baseball fanatic and former player, the “fastball on the right corner” was a situation that he has probably encountered many a time during his career. If Troy was a great a player as he says, this was probably a situation he excelled in. Troy is essentially saying that Death, isn’t anything that he can’t handle. Troy’s cavalier attitude regarding Death is ironic, because when he mistress dies, he is very much caught off guard. At the end of the novel, Troy passes away.

"All I want them to do is change the job description. Give everybody a chance to drive the truck."

Troy as we can tell through the story isnt satisfied with his life. He is unhappy about the past since he was unable to become a professional baseball player. He is unhappy, i believe, because he feel like he can’t ascend the social ladder. He is most unhappy with the present because he is unable to achieve true success at his workplace. He wishes to have the opportunity to drive the truck. Though this seem like not a big deal to today’s generation, to him, that meant everything. He constantly kept trying until the boss ultimately accepted him and he was finally given the rights.

“You gotta take the crookeds with the straights.”

In this quote Lyons recalls the words of Troy and how he used to say that you have to take the bad that comes with the good. It pretty much means that life isn’t going to perfect and that there will be many downsides that affect you as a person in your daily life. The good that comes out of it is your efforts in overcoming these obstacles and empowering yourself to continue moving forward. This philosophy of Troy’s represents the one moment in which Lyons could see eye to eye with his father, something he could never do before. Troy’s overall message was that the struggles are only a part of life and his words come to life in a bitter sweet progression of the play.Through Troy’s infidelity with and loss of Alberta, losing Rose, and abandonment of Cory, Troy has faced his fair share of “crookeds”. It is kind of like the duality of life, that one must experience the bad to know what good feels like and Troy certainly experienced both in his life filled with tribulations. Still Troy went out on his final breath swinging at all the “crookeds” or misfortunes of his life.

“You can’t visit the sins of the father upon the child.”

It’s important to understand that at this point Rose and Troy’s marriage has fallen apart. The child that Rose is referring to in this quote is the child of Troy and Alberta, the woman that Troy had an affair with. Rose does not feel any hatred towards the child. She feels that the child deserves a fair chance at having a normal childhood and is willing to love and raise the child without Troy’s help. Some may argue that not having Troy in the child’s life would benefit her considering Troy’s failures as a father. Others may argue that every child needs a father figure. Regardless of that argument, Rose is committed to raising this child and she will not see the child as a symbol of their family falling apart. This quote also shows that religion is steeped deep into her character as the said quote is a verse from the bible.

"Now he's treeing possums in the Promised Land."

This is the song that Troy would sing to himself about a dog named Blue who would tree possums. Yet this quote has some more meaning to it. Blue's doing what he loved to do while he was alive in the Promised Land. Troy loved to play baseball and was very upset that the opportunity to join the major leagues came after the fact that he was too old to play. Ironically enough, Troy dies from swinging a bat which caused him to have a heart attack. In Act 2 Scene 5 Cory and Raynell both sing the song before Troy's funeral. Hinting to the audience that like Blue, Troy is also doing what he loved to do while he was alive in the Promised Land. This allowing him to possibly live out the dreams and opportunities that he was never able to experience.

Issue of Social Concern and Relevance to American Identity:

Troy’s main conflict is within himself. He feels that he is just moping around in a perpetual rut. Having a dead end job doesn't necessarily help. This may be why he possesses just a lax demeanor towards Death, because he doesn't feel like he has much to live for. Troy also feels trapped within his marriage. This is why he has an affair, because Alberta serves as an escape for his dead end life. This was a reflection of many African Americans at this time: those who didn't have an opportunity to seek out a better life and who were forced to live day-to-day, without any real meaning.

The Decaying of the American Family:
In the early stages of the story we see Troy fail time and time again in the hope of trying to keep his family together. He cheats on his wife Rose and he is unable to form a positive relationship with his son Cory. Though he family disintegrates at first, it later comes back together through his death. With his death Cory, was able to see what not to be as a future father and Troy’s failure served as an example for his family. This relates to today because with the advances in technology we have lost use of the American family, instead we replace it with cell phones and other gadgets. At dinner, families are unable to continue conversation due to lack of face to face exposure and which leaves unaddressed the growing issues teenagers face daily. This is why the suicide rate is going up, it is because families don’t have family-time anymore.

Cory’s conflict in this play is synonymous with the conflict that lied deep within the hearts and souls of every African American teenager during that time period. It’s common knowledge that the teen years are the years of development and if that development is corrupted, then that can lead to a troubled adulthood. Cory already had it tough considering the fact that he lived in a pro-white society where black people did not have the advantages or opportunities that white people had. Everything seemed to actually be going his way when he was given the opportunity to play college football, but that instantly went down the drain when his father forbade him from doing so. Now Cory had two major obstacles in his quest for greatness: Society and his father. Believe it or not this was a common issue in the black community during this time period. African American parents were afraid of letting their children explore the real world without their guidance because they didn’t trust that the whites would welcome them with open arms. This fear created friction at home and caused arguments between father and son. This friction made it much more difficult for the black teenagers to pursue his goals and in Cory’s case, caused the relationship he had with his father to dissipate into nothing.

Racial Injustice and Oppression:

Throughout the play you are offered the perspective of an African American family living in America during the 50’s. Looking at their tough social and economic condition it is quite clear that racial discrimination and societal conditions are to blame. Even the description of the Maxson house and its overall decrepit nature shows that the family is by no means well off and simply living life on the day to day basis. During this time period there was also the Great Migration in which blacks migrated to the North in hopes of better opportunity and equality but that proved not to be the case as the play shows. Troy Maxson also faced many types of social and economic injustices during his life whether it was during his attempts at baseball or his job in which blacks were not allowed to drive the garbage trucks. Troy even says in Act 1 Scene 1, “I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, 'Why? Why you got white mens driving and the colored lifting?'", this reiterates the idea of the whites being the authority figure and not giving equal opportunity to blacks who they viewed as inferior. The same racism and blatant discrimination was what prevented Troy from playing professional baseball as he was not viewed on the same platform as the white ball players. Not only Troy but even Bono offers perspective into the effects of racial inequality when he says, “I thought only white folks had inside toilets and things.” This quote shows how Bono sees that “white folks” are more privileged in a sense than him and he really can’t do much better than them but live in his ramshackle of an apartment. Overall most of the characters in the play faced racism during their lives and the way in which they dealt with it is what formed their identities. The play offered a realistic perspective into the grim reality of the racial injustice and oppression faced by Troy and others. It reflected the real situations and conditions faced by African Americans and didn’t sugar coat any aspect of the hardships they endured.

Taking Advantage of the weak or unfortunate :

In the story, Cory points out that Troy has been taking Gabriel's army money for a long time for his own needs, not that those needs aren't important. Yet it's the fact that he is taking money from someone that can't do anything about it. Gabriel suffer's from a head injury that has left him disillusion and a bit insane, which means that he can easily be taken advantage of. Yet Gabriel, not knowing of this, still loves Troy unconditionally and is ready to do anything for him, even open up the gates of heaven. Yet many people, even at that time would see something morally wrong with taking money from someone who most likely needs it more. Yet Troy doesn't see anything wrong with it and continues to do it willingly. He feels no remorse or guilt for doing this, which should be a red flag and signal us the readers to realize that this isn't right, yet it's not only happening here, but all across America because like Troy, they see no harm in doing it because they only care for themselves.