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Fences Essay, Research Paper

rchives

Michael Bertin, “FENCES” by August Wilson. (From: Berney, Contemporary American Dramatists, 1994 s.v.)

First Publication: 1986.

First Production: 1985.

As he runs from his home in the American South, Troy Maxson, the son of a black sharecropper,

is borne north by the great migration of his people searching for the promised land. Unskilled

and unwanted, he searches the streets of distant cities until the day he kills a man to stay alive.

He learns how to play baseball in jail, rises to prominence in the Negro leagues, but is barred

from playing in the major leagues because of the color of his skin. He was great before the game

was fair, and the game will “never, never, never, never, never come again. “There ought not

never have been no time called too early” is how he puts it, as he tries to understand why his

father beat him as a child.

Fences is a play about a national, American pastime. The greatest white baseball player, Babe Ruth, died at 53 years

of age; Troy is 53 as the play begins, and a comparison of Troy and Babe Ruth is both compelling and to the point.

Babe Ruth was everything Troy is: large-spirited, a drinker, and womanizer, physically imposing, and a slugger. It

suits August Wilson’s purpose, perhaps, to imply their divergent destinies. If Yankee Stadium is, by repute, linked

with Ruth, then Troy gives rise to a quite different set of associations: a back-alley of Pittsburgh, the life his family

leads on his garbage collector’s pay, the rag ball he hits with a dusty bat.

The era which Wilson describes — the late 1950s and the dawn of the civil rights movement — enables a bitter

experience of the past to clash with the awakening hope of the future. Troy, distrustful of his own experience,

consequently fails to understand his son’s aspirations. Troy, a responsible man belittled by an irresponsible society

and its racism, needs the strength beyond endurance to accommodate his wasted potential. Under the pressure, he

becomes irresponsible, hurting family and friends. His personality conspires with his victimization in an horrific

image of the self-inflicted wound of racism. Many questions are raised. With more greatness in him, Troy has

more to lose; he is more bitter as a consequence. But with greatness i-i him, he also has it in him to change. And

yet he is beaten down; he even beats himself – “Hallelujah! I can’t taste nothing no more!”.

With the negative response to oppression so much in evidence, it is nevertheless important to note that Wilson is not

fashioning a martyr. If Troy is a victim of racism, not all victims of racism become like Troy. How deeply Wilson

explores the race issue is a question. He kills Troy before the end, with the final word being spoken over his grave.

He thereby avoids an issue and misses an opportunity. What happened to Troy in the missing intervening years

between the final scenes? Did he come to understand why his father beat him as a child? Did he come to understand

his son? These questions are left open.

-Michael Bertin

Contemporary American Dramatists, ed. K.A. Berney, 1994, s.v.


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