No Signs of Escape: “Fences” and “King Hedley II”

Although August Wilson’s Fences does not display the degree of senseless violence as projected in King Hedley II, both exemplify the harsh circumstances of African American communities in the 1950’s and 1980’s, respectively. Wilson makes contrasts between his characters from these plays, such as King’s criminality and Cory’s inability to escape Troy, to underline the troubling regression of their environments. The author uses these characters to stress a sense of no escape, as if to say that there was almost no other option than for King to die from a bullet and Cory to run away. Although Cory appears to be significantly better off than King at the end their respective plays, they each succumb to society’s set limitations as a result of their efforts to escape them.

While King openly deliberates society’s unwillingness to let him grow, Cory’s family is unable to recognize that running away from Troy did not free him from the bleak fate Wilson illustrates in African American communities. Although King does not understand his protectiveness over his seeds or why he feels limited by society, Wilson utilizes his open frustration and recklessness to address the importance behind his restrictions. King does not know why Ruby complains about the quality of his dirt, but it reminds him of the other times that people have told him, one way or another, that he is not good enough. King cannot become better than society’s perception of him because of its bias toward his race, but in repeatedly breaking the law he unintentionally proves that their unjust opinions are correct. Ironically, both King and Cory find themselves limited by society and try to escape it, which leads them to do exactly what is expected. While Cory runs away from his physical obstacle, namely Troy, King conforms to the harshness of his environment. Unlike King in King Hedley II, the characters in Fences do not realize that society has prevented Cory from growing up freely. Although his mother and Bono appear impressed at his reasonable triumph, becoming a corporal in the marines in the amount of time that he had to advance is not as big of a feat as it appears. It is important to note that Cory’s job at the end of his play is appropriately much more respected and noble compared to King’s illegal scamming, because Cory is clearly the more reasonable character. However, the man Cory is when he returns does not align with the personality and dreams he had when he left. He returns as someone other than himself, an inevitable product of society, rather than the enthusiastic boy who wanted to play football. Wearing his country’s uniform also suggests that he is now obeying their rules and symbolically represents his conformity because society, whether it would like to admit it or not, has changed the young man.

Although both characters value the connection they share with their families, Wilson utilizes King’s inability to reach the same level of mature understanding as Cory to explain King’s irrational fixation over paternal figures. Wilson makes it clear that King rationalizes senselessly murdering Pernell through his self-assigned mission to give his scar meaning. In this sense, Cory although younger, exhibits a clearer ability to distinguish between right and wrong, which would make sense considering that he is doing well in school and is wanted for college football. However flawed King’s idea of meaning may be, it is enough of a justification for him to commit coldblooded murder, which indicates that it has more of a personal implication to his character. Wilson utilizes dramatic irony in the reveal of King’s father to underline the great value his character has towards his own familial roots, namely the paternal ones. Similarly, Cory appears to have a loving connection with his mother and later quickly develops one with his half sister simply because he realizes that they are family. King takes great pride in his bloodline and where he comes from because it provides meaning to his life. The reaction to the scar, therefore, has little to do with the wound and more to do with creating a closer link between him and his father. However, it is also important to note that King did not really know either of the men he thought he was related to at some point or another, but he still strives to resemble them in order to stand for something, anything. While Cory clearly favors his mother, notice that he does not attempt to become her the way King tries to become part of his father. Wilson does make parallels between father and son using Troy’s story of him standing up to his father as a boy and Cory standing up to Troy during the play. However, in Fences, Troy understands that he is not a good person and tries to make Cory everything he is not. Cory, although not interpreting his father’s actions as having good intentions, also recognizes the wrong in his father and strives to make sure he does not make the same mistakes, a lesson King will never learn.

Wilson introduces Cory’s search for guidance, and King’s ignorant lack of it, to emphasize the idea that regardless of their choices, both were unfairly limited as a result of their environments. It is clear that Cory envisions Troy as the main reason preventing him from achieving things he believes he can do, just as King chooses to blame society. However in leaving Troy, who Cory sees as a physical limitation, he also leaves parental guidance and support. King’s stride towards criminality expresses his need for support, along with his ignorance toward finding it. Instead of learning from his mistakes and the misfortunes of his predecessors, he chooses to ignore Tanya’s pleas for him to start obeying the law, claiming that he is never going to get caught. Although King’s experience in jail was meant to straighten him out, the only thing he learns is how to use the claim of self-defense to his advantage. Meanwhile, despite Cory’s animosity toward his father, once he is reminded of the aspect of family between him and Troy, Cory chooses to go to his father’s funeral; his inability to disobey his father, even though he is no longer around to refuse, relates to his contrasting need for guidance. It is important to note that Cory does not mention out loud that he misses his parents or that he suddenly understands why Troy treated him as strictly as he did, even when his mother attempts to explain his actions. Cory perceives him as a terrible father, although perhaps forgivable to an extent. More importantly, however, is where Cory goes once he is free from his father’s rule. After escaping his supervisory household, Cory enlists in the marines searching for guidance.

Wilson compares and contrasts characters such as Cory and King throughout his plays in order to rationalize that in a society that sets unassailable limitations on African American communities, every path is the wrong one. Cory ran away from home in order to redefine his character from his father’s command and went from one strict household to another. King believed he was never going to get caught in his illegal activity and ended up getting shot. It is important to note that King’s demise could be explained simply as a result of his recklessness and inability to rationalize. Therefore, Wilson utilizes Cory’s potential and willingness to get an education in Fences in order to indicate that there is a more complex reason that his characters have such constrained lives. Regardless of their temperaments and levels of maturity, Cory and King are part of a society that refuses to allow them to progress or improve their circumstances.

A Black Man in a White-Dominated World in Fences

In the play Fences, written by August Wilson, the theatrical is full of symbolism that shows the meaning to growth and death through; baseball seeds and blues. At the same time, Fences views the African-American experience and relations. Troy an ex-Negro Baseball League player deals with his bitterness that is affecting his family. Fences is the odd man out because it’s about one individual and everything focuses around him. The back yard of an urban home becomes the setting to the Maxson family troubles. Besides, the protagonist Troy Maxson is represented as “the purest strain of the survival instinct in the African-American race” [Pereira, 1995]. Wilson did not name his play, Fences, simply because the dramatic action climaxes strongly on the building of a fence in the Maxson’s backyard, rather the characters lives changing around the fence-building project. The fence serves as both a literal and a figurative device, representing the relationships that bond and break in the arena of the backyard.

As it been said, Fences is against the metaphor of property and its historical meaning, particularly the connection between property rights and human rights, for African Americans; it is full of symbolism. The game of baseball has long been regarded as a metaphor for the American dream – an expression of hope, democratic values, and the drive for individual success. Baseball has become the great repository of national ideals, the symbol of all that is good in American life: fair play-sportsmanship; the rule of law-objective arbitration of disputes; equal opportunity-each side has its innings; the brotherhood of man -bleacher harmony and more. Furthermore, in Fences, by situating Troy within three of baseball’s mythic settings-the garden, the battlefield, and the sacred space – Wilson contradicts the idea of America as a “field of dreams,” using baseball instead as a metaphor for heroic challenge [Herrington, 2002:73].

It is evident that in Fences Wilson uses Troy’s experience in the Negro Leagues to demonstrate that the American dream remained out of reach for people of African descent. When Troy’s friend Jim Bono remarks that Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson were the only players to hit more home runs than Troy, Troy answers, “What it ever get me? Ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of” [Wilson, 1986: 9]. Troy’s wife, Rose, and Bono both claim that times have changed since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, that many black players are involved in professional sports now, and that Troy “just come along too early” [9]. To this argument Troy responds indignantly: “There ought not never have been no time called too early! . . .I done seen a hundred niggers play baseball better than Jackie Robinson. Hell, I know some teams Jackie Robinson couldn’t even make! What you talking about Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson wasn’t nobody. I’m talking about if you could play ball then they ought to have let you play. Don’t care what color you were. Come telling me I come along too early. If you could play . . . then they ought to have let you play” [Wilson, 1986: 9-10]. Curiously enough, in Fences, Troy aligns himself with “the house of Ruth” rather than with “the house of Robinson,” not only through his overt criticism of Robinson, but through his self-styled image as a slugger. Like Babe Ruth (and his Negro League counterpart, Gibson), Troy has embraced a conservative approach to the sport of baseball, eschewing the running game of Robinson or the spectacular fielding of Mays, and focusing instead on hitting the ball out of the park. Troy says to Bono, “You get one of them fastballs, about waist high, over the outside corner of the plate where you can get the meat of the bat on it … and good god! You can kiss it goodbye” [Wilson, 1986: 10]. By connecting himself with “the house of Ruth”, Troy not only transcends certain racial stereotypes, but he affirms that he can beat the white man at his own game.

Troy’s metaphorical references to Robinson’s brand of baseball help to capture the double consciousness [Du Bois 45] of African American experience; for as a black slugger in a world dominated by whites, Troy inevitably belongs simultaneously to “the house of Ruth” and “the house of Robinson.” He is both an American and a black man – “two souls, two thoughts, two incongruous strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder”. Driven to see himself and to measure his success through the lens of white America, Troy embodies both the psychological fragmentation of the black American and the dualistic nature of black baseball- a cultural institution that describes as an ironically compressed expression of shame and pride, of degradation and achievement.

Besides invoking the falsity of the American dream in Fences, Wilson makes use of the stew metaphor in Fences to illustrate the economic inequities experienced by members of the black working class. Troy Maxson recalls the following incident witnessed in a restaurant: “I seen a white fellow come in there and order a bowl of stew. Pope picked all the meat out of the pot for him. Man ain’t had nothing but a bowl of meat! Negro come behind him and ain’t got nothing but the potatoes and carrots” [Wilson, 1986: 23]. Through the metaphor of the cultural stew, then, Wilson illustrates what Baker calls the “economics of slavery” – a governing statement of American history that perpetuates the economic structure and patriarchal myths of the antebellum South [Baker, 1984: 26-27]. Actually, in Fences the closest, that Troy comes to participating in the American dream- and hence inhabiting such a paradise- is during his life in the Negro Leagues.

Wilson associates the American dream with Troy’s younger days as a ballplayer. For Troy, however, the American dream has turned into a nightmare. Therefore, Troy Maxson is indeed considered a tragic hero and there are pieces of evidence throughout the aforementioned play that further proves it: instead of limitless opportunity, he has come to know racial discrimination and poverty. At age 53, this former Negro League hero is a garbage collector who ekes out a meager existence, working arduously to support his family and living from hand to mouth. “I do the best I can do,” he tells Rose. “I come in here every Friday. I carry a sack of potatoes and a bucket of lard. You all line up at the door with your hands out. I give you the lint from my pockets. I give you my sweat and my blood. I ain’t got no tears. I done spent them” [Wilson, 1986: 40]. Troy claims that he would not even have a roof over his head if it were not for the $3,000 that the government gave to his mentally disabled brother, Gabriel, following a serious head injury in World War II. It is known that a tragic hero is a character who used to do good deeds in the light of others but allows for his flaws or inner struggles to overcome him. Aristotle once said that a tragic hero is, “one who does not fall into misfortune though vice or depravity, but falls because of some mistake”. As a result, this downfall leads to the character’s death. In the case of Troy Maxson, it is clear that he constantly struggles to keep up with good deeds for his family, but unfortunately allowed his inner flaws to lead him to his lonely and tragic death.

In Fences Wilson converts Troy’s playing field into a battleground. Throughout the play Troy is pictured as a warrior, fighting to earn a living and to stay alive in a world that repeatedly discriminates against him. As Shannon has noted, Troy sees life as a baseball contest. He tells Rose: “You got to guard the plate closely . . . always looking for the curve-ball on the inside corner. You can’t afford to let none get past you. You can’t afford a call strike. If you going down . . . you going down swinging” [Wilson, 1986: 69]. Troy’s front yard is literally turned into a battleground during his confrontations with his younger son, Cory. When this idea of getting into college football is brought onto Troy’s table, his immediate response was to say no. The reason for this action was clear. He was protecting his son from having high hopes because he believed the color barrier was not broken. Troy’s efforts to prevent his son from playing football can be viewed as a form of “racial madness”- a term that suggests that social and political forces can impact the black psyche and that decades of oppression can induce a collective psychosis [Wilson, 1986: 6]. In Fences, this racial madness is illustrated most vividly in the character of Troy himself, who is so overwhelmed by bitterness that he destroys his son’s dream of a college education- a dream that most fathers would happily support. Instead, Troy instructs Cory to learn a trade like carpentry or auto mechanics: “That way you have something can’t nobody take away from you” [Wilson, 1986: 35].

Moreover, in the stage directions to Fences, Wilson indicates that the legendary “field of dreams” has been reduced to the “small dirt yard” in front of Troy’s home-his current playing field. Incompletely fenced, the yard contains lumber and other fence-building materials, as well as two oil drums used as garbage containers. A baseball bat – “the most visible symbol of Troy’s deferred dreams” – is propped up against a tree, from which there hangs “a ball made of rags”. As the setting reveals, Troy does not inhabit a walled garden of timeless youth. At 53, he cannot reclaim his past glory as a power hitter; nor can he participate in the American dream. His playing field has deteriorated into one of dirt, garbage, and rags. Indeed, only after Troy’s death at the end of the play, when his fence is completed and when his daughter Raynell plants a small garden in front of the house, is there even a suggestion of a walled paradise. On the whole, Fences is unique in that it appropriates a traditionally white cultural form- baseball- in order to portray an African American experience in the twentieth century.

To conclude everything, it should be noticed that in Fences such baseball’s setting invites stories of mythic confrontation. This baseball’s battleground is a kind of a sanctuary for heroes-a space reserved for the bravest and best. In Fences Troy sees himself as belonging to this masculine battleground. Indeed, throughout the play he uses the game of baseball to preserve a heroic self- image. Although his glory days in the Negro Leagues are far behind him, Troy still views himself as the strong man, the indomitable slugger of old. Wilson artfully expresses Troy Maxon’s double consciousness- his complicated experience as a black man in a white-dominated world.

Works Cited

Baker, Houston A., Jr. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-Amencan Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. 1903. New York: Penguin, 1969.

Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume/New American Library, 1986.

Pereira, K ., August Wilson and the African American Odyssey.Urbana, Univ. of Illinois Press, 1995. Herrington J., The Playwright’s Muse, New York: Routledge, First Edition, 2002.

The Apple and the Tree: Family Ties in The Namesake and Fences

A man lives his life and evolves over time; he embodies a synthesis of all his experiences with those he meets over his lifetime. What he sees when he finally meets the son he helps bring into this world for the first time is unique to who he is and what he is. His thoughts are often of how he grew up and of the man his own father was; often he tells himself that this time it will be different and that he will be different than his own father. Nowhere are these complexities more apparent than in the lives of America-based fathers and sons who grow up in separate worlds – and all this within the shadow of the mainstream culture. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and Fences by August Wilson represent the growing pains of two very different families, but hold within the similar theme of the lasting, complex effects of relationships between fathers and sons.

Troy Maxson is the protagonist of the play Fences who is born a son to a freeman. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…” (US Const. amend. XIII, 1865) The story sets him as a teenager in the early 1900’s; therefore, his father is at least the descendant of a slave. The play does not specify the details, but with slavery’s abolition in 1865, the probability that his dad is actually a previously freed slave, as opposed to being born free, is very likely especially given Troy’s story of how he left his father, “The only part of the world I knew was the forty-two acres of Mr. Lubin’s land… I was through with farming… So I walked the two hundred miles to Mobile.” (Wilson, pg. 916) He becomes his own man early in life due to his harsh example of a father born of a dark chapter of American history, when slavery was still a relatively recent memory. His rocky upbringing leaves him with little choice and propels him to seek a new life.

Troy’s parental psychology is in many ways the product of the lingering and lasting consequences of the evils of slavery in the United States. “The only thing my daddy cared about was getting them bales of cotton in to Mr. Lubin. That’s the only thing that mattered to him.” (Wilson, pg. 914) Growing up with that sort of mentality makes Troy the father he eventually becomes later. Here, there is no better example of the care-about-nothing-else, work-hard ethic that becomes the core of how he views the world and his responsibilities as his lasting inheritance. He sees his own role as to do whatever is necessary to be the “bread-winner”, and that is his only true goal in life as he comes to know it for himself; he is bound by the only means which he inherits, the sweat of his own hard labor.

He fails to be much for Lyons, his eldest son, who rebukes him, “I’m thirty-four years old. If you wanted to change me, you should have been there when I was growing up.” (Wilson, pg. 898) With a relationship that’s tenuous at best with Lyons, his tough love becomes greater with his younger son, Cory. “I don’t want him to be like me! I want him to move as far away from my life as he can get.” (Wilson, pg. 909) Troy is adamant about destroying any attempt to turn sports into a career, but he makes it abundantly clear that he does have the best of intentions. He drills Cory into being a responsible young man and continues to push him to ensure that he is a good, honest, hard worker. He believes, from his experiences and who he is, that no black man will ever make it in the white world of American sports.

Similar to Troy Maxson in at least sharing in concern for his son’s future success, Ashoke Ganguli is profoundly thoughtful and nurturing in Lahiri’s novel. “[He] looks on from one side, his wife’s suitcase in hand, smiling with his head lowered. “Gogol enters the world,” [Ashoke] will eventually write…” (Lahiri, pg. 29) At the very start, at the birth of his son, Ashoke is the type of father we are more quick to recognize and accept. He is the kind of man who wears his learned nature as a scholar and professor at an esteemed university quite well. His deep intellect shines through as he names his son after a brilliant writer that ties him in with his own past: a very personal background story that he waits and hopes to eventually reveal much later to his son one day when the time is right. He sees his son as a magnificent gift that he is given from surviving a terrible accident that almost took his life. In his son, he sees the wonders of life reborn and immediately makes the connection with his choice of naming him Gogol.

Being born of a very different cultural identity, Ashoke is often cautiously apprehensive with Gogol’s maturation and takes steps not to lose his deeper connections to his son. “[Ashoke and his wife, Ashima,] send him to Bengali language and culture lessons every other Saturday… For when Ashima and Ashoke close their eyes it never fails to unsettle them, that their children sound just like Americans, expertly conversing in a language that still at times confounds them, in accents they are accustomed not to trust.” (Lahiri, pg. 65) Bengali culture is important as a basis for how he raises his kids, and though he is open to them assimilating into America, he feels that if they lose connection to their heritage then they will also likely lose their familial ties to one another. Traditions, family, community, and India form the building blocks to his relationship with his children.

Friction inevitably ensues when two worlds collide, as cultural differences and resulting issues have a way of sneaking themselves into the lives and relationships of fathers and sons. “I don’t get it. Why did you have to give me a pet name in the first place? What’s the point? …it’s not even a Bengali name… How could you guys name me after someone so strange?” (Lahiri, pgs. 99-100) Ashoke is still waiting for the right moment when he feels that Gogol is ready to know his deeply personal reasons and connection to the name. “Then change it… In America anything is possible. Do as you wish.” (Lahiri, pg. 100) Instead of telling outright why his name means so much to himself, Ashoke shows his persevering patience in his fathering style and also positively reinforces his son’s continuance of assimilation into American ways and values above his own feelings. This is a trait that sets him far apart from Troy Maxson; Ashoke acquiesces to his son’s wishes whereas Troy dictates his exact demands.

Much can be said about Ashoke’s cultured Bengali ways: even though he is kind, caring, and relatively nurturing, Ashoke remains steadfast in his characteristic reservation about personal expression of emotions. It becomes difficult to finally tell Gogol of his name’s importance. “[He] is not the type to admit such things, to speak openly of his desires, his moods, his needs… “I want to tell you something… It’s about your name…” He tells him about the night that had nearly taken his life, and the book that saved his life, and about the year afterward, when he’d been unable to move.” (Lahiri, pgs. 122-123) So in truth, Ashoke’s waiting for the right time did not solely depend on whether or not Gogol was ready to know, but is more profoundly a reflection of his own long buildup of his collective state of readiness; his feelings on this deep personal matter, much like the original intention of the Bengali utterance of pet names, are so immensely private in meaning that he could not express himself until he was absolutely ready. Ashoke finally releases his legacy and loving connection to his son as he views him, a cherished gift and blessing.

It is often said that we don’t fully appreciate those we love and their meaning and message until we lose them. “His father had always been particular about turning off the radio. In fact, there is no sign of his father in the car… [Gogol] shuts off the radio, drives in silence through the cold, bleak afternoon, through the flat, charmless town… wondering if this route is the same one his father had taken when he drove himself to the hospital.” (Lahiri, pgs. 173-174) Gogol feels the connection to his father now suddenly and irrevocably cut from his existence, the silence in his father’s rental car now oddly deafening to his soul and being. He remembers the little things his dad used to do and how he did them, and the absence of those things in the car is the realization of the fact that he is no more.

The absence of his father finally triggers his complete understanding. “The Short Stories of Nikolai Gogol. “For Gogol Ganguli,” “The man who gave you his name, from the man who gave you your name” …He wonders if he will be married again one day, if he will ever have a child to name… the book he had once forsaken, has abandoned until now. Until moments ago it was destined to disappear from his life altogether, but he has salvaged it by chance, as his father was pulled from a crushed train forty years ago… For now, he starts to read.” (Lahiri, pgs. 288-291) The impact of his father is now in his full recognition. Forever the deep intellect of his parent transcends all boundaries, as his own namesake entwines with the life and memory of Ashoke. He comes to see his life as his father had already seen it all along, in a sense, as though written long before he was even born.

Troy Maxson as a father, like Ashoke Ganguli, burns a lasting legacy into his kids and especially in his son Cory. “The whole time I was growing up … living in this house … Papa was like a shadow that followed you everywhere… That shadow digging in your flesh. Trying to crawl in. Trying to live through you… I’m just saying I’ve got to find a way to get rid of that shadow, Mama.” (Wilson, pg. 939) After seeing his half-sister Raynell and talking to his mother, Cory finally comes to terms with what his father really meant for him; for all Troy was and wasn’t, through his harshness and forcefulness, through his dictations, he too transcends the past and Cory realizes that he meant the best for him and his future. He finally allows himself to go to the funeral with his family.

The everlasting importance and effects of the love found in father-son relationships supersede even death in depth, scope, magnitude, gravity and reach; common love is often kept hidden, private, and convoluted in the context of culturally-enforced notions of masculine psychology and its masking of feelings, desires, wants and needs. Maybe such complexities can best be summed up by sayings that, though simpler than Fences and The Namesake, can at times ring just as true. Love conquers all things; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Works Cited:

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “The Namesake.” 2004 ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003. Print.

U.S. Constitution. Amendment XIII. 1865.

Wilson, August. “Fences.” Literature A Pocket Anthology. 6th Ed. R. S. Gwynn. Pearson Education, 2015. Page 887. Print.

Rebuilding Relationships in Fences

In the play Fences, by August Wilson, a fence represents protection and incomplete or broken relationships. Through the fence, Wilson is trying to show that even things that were once perfect and have gone awry can still be rebuilt.

One way Wilson uses the fence is to represent protection and love. A fence usually keeps things in that people want and separates it from the things that they don’t want. A fence also is a separation between two or more objects or events. In the beginning of the play, the fence is broken which represents that the family has problems with their relationship to each other. Troy and Cory have different points of view. Cory wants to play football and in order for him to play at his school, he decides to stop working everyday and only work on the weekends. Troy does not agree and says that Cory is “a bigger fool” than he thought and that he needs to get his job back at the A&P (36). If Cory can’t both work and play football, he is told that he will have to quit the football team. Troy said this to Cory because he does not want Cory to become a garbage man like he is or become unemployed. Troy uses the word “fool” because he tried to do the same thing when he was young. Troy is trying to help Cory understand that he doesn’t want him to live the same way he had to. He does this for Cory’s own good, but Cory does not realize this. Cory feels that his father is just trying to ruin his life and not let him have fun. This relates to the fence because even though Troy wants to fix the fence and keep it in good shape, it will always become broken again. This means that even though Troy may want something to happen a certain way, it may not always happen that way. At this time in the play, the fence is bent and broken just like Troy and Cory’s relationship.

Wilson also uses the fence to represent incomplete relationships. Troy has been cheating on Rose and causes their relationship to become incomplete. During this time, the fence is broken and bent just like their relationship. Troy has been ignoring Rose and he doesn’t tell her that he was seeing someone else until he made the other person pregnant. Overall, Troy has been causing his relationship with Rose to bend and break. Rose feels that the only real person who cares and would “be a fence around” her every day is Jesus (21). She feels that because Troy isn’t being good to her, that the only person who can be a barrier to all the bad things is Jesus. Troy’s relationship with Cory is also broken because he is also ignoring Cory and not being there when he needs him.

Not only does the fence represent broken relationships, but it also represents the regrowth of relationships. Rose and Troy have a broken relationship because Troy cheated on her and had a baby with someone else. When Troy cheats on Rose, he tries to hide it from her, but when he finds out he is having a baby with the other person, he tells her. Rose, however, does not divorce Troy because if she did, most likely she would be living on the streets. She would be living on the streets because she would not have anybody to support her and she would have no income. Also, she believes that if she hadn’t married Troy, she could have been in an abusive relationship. Rose says that she has known people who have married someone who is abusive and even though Troy isn’t the best husband, she realizes that he is also not the worst. When the baby, Raynell, is born, her mother dies in labor. Troy then asks Rose if she would raise the child with him. When Rose accepts, she tells Troy, “This child got a mother. But you a womanless man” (79). This means that she is not going to forgive Troy anymore and she will start to hold things against him. It also means that she is going to always forgive and take care of Raynell. Troy fixes the fence when Raynell was born. Raynell brought Rose peace. Raynell made Rose feel like a person and that she was loved. It also helped her have the feelings that she never had with Troy. When Raynell was looking at her garden, she wondered why it hadn’t grown yet. Rose tells her that she needs to wait and have patience, but that she knows it will grow eventually. Rose, herself, had to be patient with Troy in order to grow. Rose was like a seed, and Troy was like the sun. A little bit of sun helps a seed grow, but with no water and/or too much sunlight, the seed will not grow. When Raynell was born, she was like the rain to a flower; without water, a plant cannot grow. Raynell helped Rose grow and caused Troy to stop criticizing and stopping Rose from doing things. This was when the fence was complete. Because Raynell was born, Rose had someone who she could talk to and who would truly listen to her. This represents the fence because in the beginning, relationships were broken and Rose felt as if she was just “there” and had no true purpose, but when Raynell was born, Rose was able to talk and realize that she did have a purpose.

Overall, the fence represented growth, destruction, and regrowth. When the fence was broken and bent, the relationships were broken and bent. The relationships also were not complete. However, when the fence was complete, the relationships were peaceful, complete, and they brought out the best in people. In the end, Wilson is successful in reminding the audience that even things that were once perfect and have gone awry can still be rebuilt.

 

Death and Baseball: August Wilson’s Fences

Along with the Fourth of July and apple pie, baseball is a celebrated symbol of America. Since its invention over 150 years ago, the game has served as a powerful metaphor for the American dream, and the hopes and democratic ideals that accompany this idea. However, in 1957, when August Wilson’s Fences is set, baseball was still in the early phases of desegregation, a process that had begun ten years before. This racial revolution left Wilson’s protagonist, 53-year-old former Negro league star Troy Maxson, resentful of the opportunities he was denied in his own baseball career. Troy’s disappointment not only affects his life, but also family’s life, in particular, his 18-year-old son, Cory. Based on his outdated assumption that discrimination still exists in sports despite the cultural changes, Troy attempts to protect Cory by denying him a football scholarship and a chance at the American dream. Troy explains his actions entirely through baseball terminology. Troy also relies on baseball imagery to describe an extramarital affair and his relationship with death itself. Using these vivid baseball images and loaded rhetoric, Troy Maxson defies the constraints of racism and the mundaneness of his own life.Consumed with bitterness, Troy dwells on the memories of his former playing days while also attempting to distinguish himself as unique. Having been denied his wish to play baseball professionally, Troy focuses on the main deterrent to his former dreams. In Troy’s mind, there is only reason he did not succeed at baseball, and that is his race. After Rose suggests that Troy was simply too old once the baseball color barrier was broken, he says, “What do you mean too old? Don’t come telling me I was too old. I just wasn’t the right color. Hell, I’m fifty-three years old and can do better than Selkirk’s .269 right now!” (39). Troy’s clear awareness of the power of race in determining opportunity is the main source of his discontent. Troy feels the need to single race out, as shown by his use of “just,” to justify his angst. His comparison to the New York Yankees outfielder George Selkirk, an average white player, also demonstrates his desire to make others understand that he was indeed talented enough to be in the major leagues. He goes further in comparing himself favorably to Selkirk, saying, “Man batting .269, understand? .269. What kind of sense that make? I was hitting .432 with thirty-seven home runs!” (9). Troy even goes so far as to compare himself to other black baseball players. He notes, “Jackie Robinson wasn’t nobody…Hank Aaron ain’t nobody.” (34) Bringing these legendary African- American players to his own level, Troy suggests that it is truly impossible for any black athlete to be successful in professional, white-controlled sports. These claims, however, seem futile and unjustified coming from the embittered Troy. His repeated use of the word “nobody” also serves to illustrate one of the reasons Troy could never have succeeded in professional baseball, a reason he himself does not recognize. Wilson depicts Troy as headstrong and confrontational with a manner far less conciliatory than would have been necessary to manage the hardships of being black in the Major Leagues in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Troy’s slandering of other players and the racist culture of baseball thus makes him come across as defiant rather than victimized. His prejudice and bitterness affects his son Cory’s baseball career, too.Believing that African-Americans will never be given a fair chance in sports, Troy denies Cory the chance to play college football. The clash between Troy and Cory persists throughout the play. It begins when Cory receives the news that he has been awarded a scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Troy’s immediate reaction to this news is to assume that Cory won’t actually even get the chance to succeed. Troy says, “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway.” (35) This echoes Troy’s own complaints about his baseball career, but his concern for Cory’s future is even more acute. Troy groups all sports organizations, or any people with power as the “white man.” This generalization shows how disenchanted and prejudiced Troy has become after experiencing so much disappointment in his baseball career. Thus, when his own son receives a chance far superior to any Troy received, he instantly rejects it based on his longstanding fear of exclusion and rejection by those in power. When Rose tries to convince Troy to let Cory play, she explains that Cory is simply trying to be like his father. She says, “Why don’t you let the boy go ahead and play football, Troy? Ain’t no harm in that. He’s just trying to be like you with the sports” (39). The indignant language Troy uses to respond suggests that Rose has hit on a very sensitive topic. For Cory to be exactly like him is precisely what Troy wishes to prevent. Troy says to Rose, “I don’t want him to be like me! I want him to move as far away from my life as he can get… I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports” (39). Troy’s way of protecting and caring for his son is confusing to Rose and infuriating to Cory. In Troy’s mind, he is protecting his son from falling victim to his same disappointments. The sports world and baseball have come to represent such evils to Troy that he lets his past shape Cory ‘s future, determined not to allow racism to dictate Cory’s life. Wilson leaves it ambiguous why Troy waited until such a late point in Cory’s life to stop him from playing sports. This is perhaps because Troy realizes that because Cory plays a different sport in a different time, he might actually have a better chance at success than his father. This clash between Cory and Troy and eventually renders Cory unable to live in the same house as his father.As Troy moves further and further away from his dream of playing baseball, he starts to meld the playing field with his home life. Troy starts using baseball imagery to direct his family and defy white culture. Wilson describes the play’s only setting as “a small dirt yard, partially fenced…A baseball bat leans against a tree.” This description suggests that Troy still treats his surroundings like a baseball game. The dirt of the yard provides a field on which to go to battle with whomever he needs, just like he did while playing the real game. Baseball imagery is central to the way Troy makes sense of his world. He describes his attitude towards life to Rose, saying, “You born with two strikes on you before you come to the plate. You got to guard it closely…always looking for the curve-ball on the inside corner” (69). This powerful image shows a defiant Troy as a perpetual fighter in the batter’s box of life, striving to earn a decent living in a world that will always discriminate against him. Troy attempts to convey this embattled and truculent mentality to Cory as well, but after learning that Troy has crushed his football prospects, Cory becomes so incensed that he begins to make angry accusations against his father. He says, “Just cause you didn’t have a chance! You just scared I’m gonna be better than you, that’s all” (58). Full of idealism about the promise of the American dream, Cory’s reaction reflects the generational conflict between father and son. In response to Cory’s accusation, Troy responds with the same baseball-as-battlefield imagery. He says, “I’m gonna tell you what your mistake was. See…you swung at the ball and didn’t hit it. That’s strike one. See you in the batter’ box now. You swung and you missed. That’s strike one. Don’t you strike out!” (58) To Troy, baseball is inextricably linked with pain and disappointment. He equates Cory’s failure, with the physical action of missing a pitch, a “strike.” This representation of disappointment as a physical action shows the effect that disillusionment and racism have had on Troy’s life, as well as how Troy perpetuates this in his parenting decisions. As Cory nears a “strike out,” or rather, being kicked out of the household, Troy increasingly merges his baseball imagery with foreboding warnings. Eventually, Cory has a physical fight with Troy and leaves the house, serving as the final strike in Cory’s potential sports career. This conflict takes a powerful toll on Troy as well.Shortly before the play’s conclusion, Troy directs his baseball rhetoric towards death and his marital conflict to underscore his proud defiance. After exposing his affair to Rose, Troy attempts to justify his actions again using his traditional baseball terminology. He says, “I stood on first base for eighteen years and I thought…well, goddamn it…go on for it!” (70) This explanation provides a window into Troy’s character by showing how focused his life had been on being responsible. He assures himself that he was entitled to seek and achieve more because he had been living the same “decent,” “useful” life for “eighteen years.” It is telling that he uses the “first base” imagery to explain his period of stasis because his baseball career was also stuck. Through this display of pride, the reader can see how important it is for Troy to differentiate himself and to defy his static life. This theme of defiance continues as the play progresses and Troy begins addressing death itself. By linking baseball and death, he convinces himself that he is unconquerable and close to immortal. Troy says about death, “Death ain’t nothing. I done seen him. Done wrassled with him. You can’t tell me nothing about him. Deathain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner” (10). Troy equates death with a pitch that could he could hit to score a home-run. This address parallels his disparaging comments about Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson, in Act I, in that they both demonstrate that Troy wishes to show that he is stronger than his opponents. For Troy, death itself might represent the perpetual oppression of the white man, a force he wishes he could take on and conquer. Eventually, Troy realizes that his “at bat” with death has finally rendered him the loser. In his last speech, Troy addresses death once again, “(Troy assumes a batting posture and begins to taunt Death, the fastball in the outside corner). Come on! It’s between you and me now! Come on! Anytime you want! Come on! I be ready for you…but it ain’t gonna be easy” (89). Even until his final moments, Troy feels compelled to face death with the same vigor and fearlessness with which he would have faced the legendary black pitcher, Satchel Paige. By utilizing baseball rhetoric at this final moment, Wilson leaves the reader thinking about the nature of the sport, specifically the fact that there can only be one victor. Troy’s final speech also leaves the reader with a strong image of the protagonist as a warrior who remained resolute and defiant until his final hour. In the final scene of the play, as the entire Maxson family gathers to commemorate Troy, his brother Gabriel, in the figurative form of the Archangel Gabriel, says, “You ready, Troy. I’m gonna tell St. Peter to open the gates. You get ready now” (100). As Gabriel sends Troy off through the Gates of Heaven, it becomes clear through the use of “You get ready now,” that he recognizes and respects Troy’s defiant character, as reflected by his language. No matter how many wrongs Troy committed in his life, he will ultimately be remembered for his strength in the face of adversity and oppression. With the whole family at the house, Troy’s home and real playing fields are consecrated, and the great man who never stopped swinging is forgiven and celebrated.August Wilson’s Fences is unique because it takes a traditionally white activity, baseball, and uses it to portray the African-American experience. Through Troy, Wilson craftily expresses a black man’s complex awareness of being an outsider in a white society. At the same time,this approach serves to contradict the standard image of the wholesome American dream. Wilson suggests that America’s national pastime has been tarnished with racism and thus the idealistic promise of America is an illusion as well. The playwright instead indicates, that the image of baseball, and the nation as a whole, must accept the increasing role of the Troy Maxsons of the world, the proud, defiant, African- American fighters who are just as deserving of the American Dream.

The Significance of Songs in August Wilson’s Fences

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in,” offers the sage Bono one afternoon during his usual bonhomie with fellow refuse collector Troy Maxson. The seemingly minor line encompasses the entire leitmotif of August Wilson’s play, Fences. It is a play that takes place in a time, as the author says, that is “turbulent, racing, dangerous, and provocative” and during which the collective fences of society begin to dissolve. It is a time that will leave many, like Troy, confused about the changing nature of family and country. Wilson utilizes song to reveal the nature of the emotional and physical fences, which serve to plague or protect the characters in Fences. The songs, which permeate the lives of the Maxsons, reveal how Troy imposes his fences on his wife and children, and how these characters react to such fences. Wilson’s use of song reveals much about the characters and their relationships with one another. “Jesus be a fence all around me everyday,” sings Rose one morning while hanging up the laundry. She sings to be “protected as [she] travels on [her] way.” As the first instance of song in the play, this song helps to reveal Rose’s mentality regarding her role as wife and mother. Rose asks her husband Troy to build a physical fence around their yard. Bono, a family friend, sees this as a means of “holding on” to Troy because “she loves [him].” This woman has “eighteen years of [her] life invested in Troy” with no other means of keeping Troy faithful but to pray, as with this song. Yet her efforts are abortive as Troy not only cheats on her, but announces that he is “gonna be someone’s daddy.” At this point in their marriage, Troy and Rose had “lost touch with one another,” but she takes the child into her family, and raises her for the reason that “you can’t visit the sins of the father upon the child.” She deems Troy “a womanless man,” however, for straying from her protective fence while she has remained obediently within his. Song appears later in the play when Troy revisits the music of his father, whose song reveals Troy’s mentality regarding his family. Admonished by Rose for calling her as if she were a dog, he starts singing his father’s song about “a dog [whose] name was Blue.” Troy then reflects on a dog he had once who “used to get uppity like that [ie. like Rose had done]” and would not come when he called. The nature of the song reflects Troy’s attitude towards his family on whom he imposes figurative fences. He expects his family to obey his word, as if they were dogs themselves, and builds restrictive fences to keep them as helpless under his dominion as dogs. He builds fences around Rose to keep her “settled down to cook his supper and clean his sheets”, and another around Cory to keep him from “getting involved in any sports.” He builds yet another to separate himself from Lyons, whose views of life and purpose differ greatly from Troy’s own. Rose “took on his life as [hers]” and he prevented Cory from playing football. Rose later reflects that “he was so big he filled up the whole house;” perhaps this is the secret behind why his fences succeeded and why hers did not. Troy had the power to uphold his fences by brute force or by overpowering the entire family. Rose had let him dominate, and was left with no room for her own fence.Wilson concludes the play with more song, revealing what happens to a fence once it’s owner dies. After Troy’s death, it is his own song that unites his children. Cory and Raynell, born of different mothers but both blood descendents of Troy. “Had an old dog his name was Blue,” sing the two children. Both had learned it from their father, and as their duet comes to an end, one gets the sense of closure. The song is an example of all that Cory shares with his father, including much of his personality. “You’re Troy Maxson all over again,” says Rose to her song. Cory realizes how much of his father has become part of him and decides to attend his funeral after lingering doubts about acknowledging his father’s place in his heart. The “shadow” that was Troy Maxson has become Cory “growing into himself,” as Rose puts it. Furthermore, both he and Raynell bond in this moment through their father’s song. This song is something they both have in common, and it gives Troy one last chance to unite his children, even though it occurs after his death. It is one last fence to keep his family within.In Fences, Wilson makes use of song to reveal the fences the characters build around them and those they love. The play takes place in a time when the fences built to keep African-Americans from fulfilling their dreams were just being lifted. The songs reveal the mentality of the Maxsons in response to the changing times and to the barriers they perceive between themselves and their family members. They are songs that have the capacity to restrict, ostracize, and ultimately build the fences that tie families together.

The Importance of Dreams

Throughout the history of black American culture, the pursuit of dreams has played a pivotal role in self-fulfillment and internal development. In many ways an individual’s reactions to the perceived and real obstacles barring the path to a dream define the very character of that person. This theme has been quite evident in black literary works regardless of time period or writing style. For example, in both Fences, by August Wilson, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, dreams enhance the plot and message of the story, though the two stories develop under different circumstances. The importance of dreams in character development is one common thread that unites Fences and Their Eyes Were Watching God, two stories penned by authors similar only in their racial backgrounds.While Their Eyes Were Watching God focuses little on the dreams of men, the author’s attitude toward this subject is clear from the very first paragraph of her novel. She claims that men’s dreams are “mocked to death by Time”, implying that men are so inherently passive that they have less control than the “tide” over their own desires (Hurston 1). Logan Killicks and Joe Starks provide physical representations of this opinion. Logan’s dream seems to be to find a beautiful woman to love. While his marriage to Janie fulfills this wish, the reader witnesses Logan’s inability to hold on to Janie; Janie soon leaves Logan with no control and little hope. Joe, too, fails to succeed, but he is shiftless in another way. While he perseveres in accomplishing his dreams, he spends his life pursuing the wrong dreams. Janie accuses him of not seeing or understanding a “whole heap uh things” he “could have”; how true it is! (Hurston 86) Rather than accepting the facts of life and making plans around them, Joe unrealistically expected everyone and everything to conform to his desires. Tea Cake is the one male who does accomplish his dreams. However, his unique personality explains his success. Tea Cake has priorities and knows exactly what will make him truly happy, and he does not give up on his dreams, no matter how unrealistic they may seem. Even though he “ain’t got no business” getting “familiar”(Hurston 105) with Janie, he comes back “day after day” (Hurston 111) because he realizes that Janie will make him happy. Hurston’s observations of the actions of the male characters in Their Eyes Were Watching God provides crucial commentary on how different characters react to adversity.In Fences, as well, the reader understands Wilson’s view that weak characters, usually men, will allow excuses and roadblocks to interfere in the attainment of their dreams. Troy best typifies the kind of behavior that succumbs to bitterness and inaction rather than persisting in a dream. His defeatist attitude shows in his relations with his son; he tells his son that football “ain’t gonna get” him “nowhere” (Wilson 8). Because Troy’s dream to play professional baseball never materialized, he tells Cory to learn something that “can’t nobody take away” (Wilson 35). However, Troy’s life revolves around baseball; while he may not have played professional ball, it is clear that baseball gave him something priceless. Still, Troy is so upset about his failed dreams that he blames all his failures on others and becomes one-dimensionally focused on tangible goals. He drives those who love him away. In the other male characters of the play the same trends of hopelessness and lack of effort are evident. Wilson clearly demonstrates the self-inflicted pain that Troy and others suffer as a result of the frustrations of their desires.In Their Eyes Were Watching God Hurston provides the antithesis of this male weakness through the strong perseverance of Janie in fulfilling her dreams. At the beginning of her novel, Hurston comments that the “dream is the truth”; women “act…accordingly” (Hurston 1). This contrasts greatly with her indictment of the condition of man. The reader witnesses throughout the novel Janie’s great internal strength as well as her flexibility in accomplishing her goal of finding true love. While she certainly meets failure in the shape of Logan and Jody, she eventually does find happiness because of her resilience. Through two failed marriages she still manages to hold on to her ideal of the “blossoming pear tree” (Hurston 11). Her dreams may have changed in form, but remained the same in substance; as she put it, her “old thoughts” simply needed “new words”(Hurston 32). Joe died too proud to acknowledge his mistakes, but Janie made her horrible experiences little more than a “sobbing sigh” (Hurston 192) due to her endless search and eventual discovery of “peace” (Hurston 193). Janie displays enviable qualities of optimism, a sense of self-worth, and dedication in the pursuit of her dreams.August Wilson also counters his weak male characters in Fences with the strong female presence of Rose. Rose’s dreams center around a hope for a stable, loving family, something that she lacked as a child. Rose sacrifices everything to “hold on” to her family because she realizes how important her strength is to the rest of the family (Wilson 61). She even mothers the child that Troy has with another woman because she knows how much that child will need love. Rose denies herself of her “wants and needs” because her ultimate dream is to build a foundation and a future; she recognizes that this is the most important priority in her life (Wilson 71). While her path is not always easy, Rose sticks to it because she knows exactly who she is and what she wants. She does not condone Troy’s actions, even warning him that he is “livin’ on borrowed time”, but she recognizes that his mistakes should not ruin her dream. Rose shows traits of motivation and adaptability that allow her to accomplish her dream in spite of her circumstances.In both Their Eyes Were Watching God and Fences references to dreams continually appear. It seems logical that the concept of dreams and their attainability would be frequently addressed in writings of black American authors; after all, blacks have always encountered numerous difficulties in accomplishing anything that whites would never face. In Fences especially racial barriers play a great role in the impossibility of dreams; however, Fences also demonstrates that how an individual reacts to adversity can greatly influence his or her life. Their Eyes Were Watching God provides a more universal analysis of whether dreams can be achieved; Janie faces less barriers because of her race than she does because of the people surrounding her. An interesting aspect of Fences and Their Eyes Were Watching God is that the women do display much greater hope and dedication than do the men. One possible argument for this could be that women have historically played a subordinate role to men while also having more responsibilities; because of this, women are forced to ignore many hardships and continue in their dreams while men can simply give up. Regardless of this, it is fascinating to observe how many parallels there are between Fences and Their Eyes Were Watching God regarding dreams. The two books little resemble each other on a purely literal level because Wilson and Hurston use such unique writing styles; however, the message and opinions of the two are remarkably similar.The crucial importance of dreams in one’s life plays a key role in both Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, and Fences, by August Wilson. The two stories, differing in characterization, setting, and plot, have similar themes of the necessity of discovering one’s true desires and living by the standards of those dreams. Zora Neale Hurston and August Wilson are continually recognized simply as “black authors”; perhaps these similarities in content will lend some meaning to the term.

Dissolving Binaries in Sula and Fences

Toni Morrison’s Sula and August Wilson’s Fences have countless similarities. The two stories, which at their cores revolve around African American struggles, showcase the complexities of being a person of color in a rapidly changing society. Characters in both novels—like Sula and Corey— ignore the life paths society expects them to take, forging their own paths instead. Older characters—like Eva and Troy—suffer from painful pasts. Thematically, Morrison and Wilson break down binaries, both arguing that a person isn’t inherently good or bad, but somewhere in between.

The characters of Eva, from Sula, and Troy from Fences have many similarities, both in backstories and in the way these backstories affect the way they parent. Even though they both lived after the end of slavery, they still suffered from its effects. Growing up in the south, Troy had a father who only cared about “getting them bales of cotton” in to the plantation owner that he sharecropped for (51). Unable to leave because “he ain’t know how to do nothing but farm,” he took out his anger on his children and the people around him, once beating Troy so he could molest his girlfriend (51). At fourteen, he leaves his father only to live through years of homelessness and eventually incarceration.

Similarly, to Troy, Eva had a traumatic past due to uncontrollable factors, like her race, class, and gender. Her abusive husband leaves Eva and their young children “confused and desperately hungry” (32). She struggled with starvation, similarly to most other African Americans who lived shortly after the end of slavery, in a time period where “niggers was dying like flies” (68).

Eva and Troy’s pasts affect the way they parent their more privileged children. They believe that the struggles they endure to provide for their children should suffice in proving their love for them. Their children verbalize their anger to their parents, like when Corey asks why Troy “ain’t ever liked [him],” Lyons accuses Troy of never being there in his childhood and Hannah asks Eva if she “loved [them]” (37, 67). Corey, Lyons, and Hannah fail to see, however, that although their parents aren’t compassionate and loving, they make innumerable sacrifices for their children. Both Eva and Troy sacrifice physical parts of themselves to provide for their young children. Eva loses her leg while working for money, and Troy gets shot trying to steal for his family. Wilson paints Lyons’s anger about his father not being around during his childhood as unjust, considering that during that time, Troy was in jail for trying to steal for his son.

It’s with Eva and Troy’s characters the Morrison and Wilson try to break down binaries about good and evil. Although Eva and Troy are generally uncompassionate and cause the other characters in the novel pain, Morrison and Wilson avoid writing them as antagonists. Including details about their tragic pasts makes readers empathize with them, and understand the motives for what they do to their families. This sparks an inner dilemma within readers about morality. Through this tactic, Morrison and Wilson demonstrate the complexities of trying to label a person as good or as evil, and argue that instead, people should look for the grey area in between.

Despite their similarities, Troy and Eva have different fates. Sula ends with Nel realizes that “Eva was mean” just like Sula said (171). Eva lives out the rest of her life in the home Sula put her in, never getting any sort of moral rejuvenation. Contrastingly, Fences ends with Gabriel telling St. Peter to “open the gates” of heaven for Troy, signifying God’s recognition of Troy’s goodness (100). Unlike Eva, Troy get’s a unquestionable answer about his morality from a higher power.

Apart from Eva and Troy, other similarities exist within Sula and Fences, namely between Eva’s granddaughter, Sula, and Troy’s son, Cory. Both of these characters attempt to break free from society’s expectations of them and follow their dreams, regardless of color or gender. Sula goes off to college and becomes a flapper to finance herself, despite that society believes that women of color shouldn’t “walk around all independent like, doing whatever they like” (142). Like Sula, Cory dreams of going to college to play football, something uncommon for black men at the time. Troy inhibits this from happening, however, believing that Cory’s race will keep him from being successful, and result in disappointment for his son. Although Sula succeeds in going to college, Cory never does. Even though he doesn’t get a higher education, Cory does take ownership of his own life journey by leaving his father’s house and joining the Marines, instead of learning a trade like Troy wanted him to. The obstacles Sula and Cory face show that although the twentieth century saw some improved equality between races, it was still extremely difficult for African Americans to achieve their dreams.

The characters of Shadrack, from Sula, and Gabriel, from Fences also have many similarities. Both characters suffer disabilities from fighting in world wars, Shadrack from World War I and Gabriel from World War II. Both these wars were fought in the name of democracy and freedom, but because of their race, Shadrack and Gabriel don’t reap the benefits of what they fought for. In their societies, freedom and equality don’t apply to African Americans.

These similarities reveal a universal thread running through literature written about African Americans in the twentieth century. Instead of writing morally perfect characters, Morrison and Wilson write about flawed African Americans. They don’t however, portray their character’s flaws as results of the genetic and overall inferiority of African Americans, like much of society does. Instead, they humanize their characters by portraying their bitterness and flaws as a justified reaction to years of slavery and oppression by white men. Also, when the characters in Fences and Sula succeed, they do so despite racial barriers, not because they don’t exist.

Personal Growth in Fences

As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting you’re special too.” It is common for people to lose themselves in relationships. It is easy to take on certain personality traits of a partner and believe that it is a part of who you are and your personality. Relationships can be hard and sometimes they demand that you compromise your needs for your partners. Some relationships can make you feel trapped, and this is the case in August Wilson’s play, Fences. Troy and Rose have been married for over 20 years and have a loving committed marriage; however, Troy feels trapped like he is “stuck on first base”, so he makes the decision to cheat on Rose. He believes that this new relationship has made him feel alive and special; however he fails to think of Rose’s feelings. Troy’s decisions make him lose the respect of both his wife and his son, Cory. Rose too says that she wanted to leave and feel special, but she didn’t because she was committed to Troy; After a big fight, Rose proclaims that he is woman less man and Cory stands up for his mom. Although both Cory and Rose lose touch with their relationship with Troy, they have evolved into stronger and more independent people because of Troy.

To begin, Cory’s relationship with Troy has built the strong-willed person Cory has become. In the beginning Troy always overshadows everyone. Troy is a person that “fills a room” when he walks in (1647). He is the center of attention. Troy refuses to let anyone else have a different opinion or standpoint; it is Troy’s way or no way. Troy is stubborn and refuses to admit when he is wrong. This is shown in Cory’s relationship with him. Cory, who had been playing football to get into college, asked his dad to sign a permission slip from a recruiter to play for a college team. Cory understood that he could get into college by playing football; however, Troy refused to acknowledge that anyone could be right except for him. Troy is stuck in the past and believes that Cory does not have a chance to make it in football. Even though Cory knows this is his way into college, Troy will not listen to his son and refuses to let him be on the football team. When Cory stands up for himself and confronts his dad he is given a “strike” (1630). Troy approaches Cory and says “you done made a mistake”; however, Cory protests and claims he did not make a mistake (1630). Troy gives him a strike for standing up for himself and this is when Cory knows that his dad is wrong. This is the turning point in Cory and Troy’s relationship. Cory can understand that standing up for himself isn’t wrong, it is just not what his dad wants. Cory now understands that even though his dad is loud and overbearing, he will not try to understand others; he will only think about himself. These strikes have continuously beat down Cory and Troy has further discouraged him by saying that even though he provides for Cory he does not have to like him. The strikes discourage any behavior Troy doesn’t like. The strikes are used to control Cory; however the strikes are the downfall of Troy’s control over Cory. The final strike is what sets Cory off to becoming strong-willed and independent. After standing up for himself and his mom and calling out Troy’s wrongdoings, Cory is told to leave the house. Troy tells him that “if he want to come back here, he’s going to have to use bat” (1644). This fight makes Cory fight for himself and for what he believes in. Cory now has the opportunity to become stronger and more independent without the weight of his dad on him all the time. Troy was like “a shadow that followed you everywhere. It weighed on you and sunk into your skin” for Cory. The relationship between Cory and Troy gave Cory the motivation and drive to become stronger and fight for himself.

Furthermore, not only did Cory grow as a person because of his relationship with Troy, but so did Rose. Troy had a very loud personality, and often overshadowed Rose. Rose told Cory that “when your daddy walked through the house, he was so big he filled it” (1647). Troy is always telling ridiculous stories and not thinking of others. He constantly talks about how much he gives and does not consider what other people give to him. Rose and Troy’s relationship makes Rose realize that she is strong and special too. Rose has had to give up a lot to be with Troy. When Troy tells her that he has cheated on her, she screams “I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams and buried them inside you… 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 going to bloom” (1636). Even though Rose gave all of her wants and dreams to Troy, she knew that they would not become a reality; she gave up on her dreams to stay with Troy. Rose gave so much to Troy, and he did not appreciate it. After this fight, Rose sticks up for herslf and becomes stronger. Once Troy asks her to mother his new child, she says she will do it, but he is still a womanless man. Rose continues to grow without Troy and plants herself somewhere else. She is able to become more independent and get her own job because her relationship with Troy has made her more driven.

It is easy to lose aspects of ourselves in others. When we are close to someone, our personalities tend to meld and we forget who we are without the other. Cory is able to become stronger because of his relationship with Troy. He is able to recognize the need to stand up for himself and others. Rose too changes because of Troy. Without being overshadowed because of him, Rose is able to become more independent. The people that we are surrounded by shape our personalities and who we are. Rose and Cory were able to grow and change because they made a change in who they wanted to be apart of their lives.

To Build a Home: Troy Maxon

In August Wilson’s Fences, Troy Maxson is a man of many flaws. He is human, and like any other human, his experiences throughout life have influenced his decisions and his outlook on life. If we were to have no context on Troy’s life, we would see him as a father who kept his son from pursuing a career in sports, a greedy brother who takes advantage of Gabriel’s disability benefits, and a lying, cheating husband. Although Troy Maxson’s actions have negatively impacted the lives of his family and the people he cares about, he still shines through as a tragic hero. When we think tragic hero, that’s not to compare him to superman, but rather, describe him as a character who has the intentions to carry out good deeds, but allows their flaws, conflicts, and inner struggles to keep them from their fulfilling their goals. This is no justification, but a clarification that even though Troy Maxson is not a perfect person, he seeks to better himself for his loved ones. We as readers watch as Troy does his best to protect his family in the only way he knows how, but ultimately allows himself to become tempted by his inner struggles and causes his own demise.

A major conflict in Fences is how Troy shoots down Cory’s potential career in sports. Based on what we see in the play, it’s evident that Troy kept Cory from pursuing the opportunity to play football to mainly to protect him from racism and discrimination that he believed was still prevalent. Other characters, like Bono and Rose, are quick to remind Troy of how there are “lots of colored boys playing ball now. Baseball and football” (14) because they are convinced that Troy is bitter over losing his chance of playing in the big leagues years ago. Even Cory convinces himself that Troy drove him away from sports as an act done out of spite and jealousy. However, there’s something that Troy says that is overlooked, “I got sense enough not to let my boy get hurt playing no sports” (41). Some may argue that Troy intercepted out of envy, based on his nonsensical reluctance to acknowledge the newfound diversity in sports. However, it’s important to know that Troy grew up with a father who was more of a selfish, reluctant provider than a loving guardian, leaving Troy to fend for himself and navigate through the world blindly while dealing with with racism, poverty, and crime. Troy does his best to protect his family in a way that he knows how, and that is by keeping Cory grounded to reality with a stable job and trades, instead of allowing him to float into the clouds with dreams that are uncertain and temporary. Good parents are described as parents who support their child to pursue their dream, no matter how ridiculous, but isn’t protecting their child a bigger priority? Troy may not express remorse over what he did to Cory’s interview, but he was aware that his actions would benefit Cory’s life in the long run.

As a result of those actions, however, there are misunderstandings and tension that arise between Troy and Cory. Troy thinks Cory is too sensitive and lectures him about the importance of family and hard work over insignificant luxuries, such as a television to watch the game. This seems to drive Cory to develop a sense of loathing of his father, which leads to Cory loss of fear of Troy’s authority, resulting in a few physical altercations. There is evidence that Troy holds himself back from hurting Cory, even then the chance arises. In both circumstances, Troy could have slapped Cory or physically disciplined Cory, but he is aware that he has enough control and respect not to. We see it when “Rose pulls on Troy to hold him back. Troy stops himself” (72) and when “Cory and Troy struggle over the bat. The struggle is fierce and fully engaged. Troy ultimately is the stronger and takes the bat from Cory and stands over him ready to swing. He stops himself” (88). It is said that the abused will eventually become the abusive, but Troy knows how much he wants to end the powerful cycle of family violence he experienced with his father. It may be argued that to even think about hurting your child is harmful enough, but to stop yourself from following that impulse is powerful.

Unfortunately, what ruins his role as a guardian is the temptation he pursues. However, although Troy cheated on Rose with Alberta, he was aware that it was wrong, admitted to it, and was willing to accept the consequences rather than run from his mistakes or make himself the victim. Troy admits to Rose immediately, saying, “It ain’t about nobody being a better woman or nothing. Rose, you ain’t the blame. A man couldn’t ask for no woman to be a better wife than you’ve been. I’m responsible for it” (71). To admit to his faults and accept what punishment is bestowed on him displays more character in Troy than it would if he were to spurn Rose’s generosity and compassion instead. Yes, the act of cheating that Troy committed ultimately caused the break in his chance of redemption from his hard past, but rather than run away from his mistakes or dismissing them completely, he addresses them and does what he can to better himself, which is what makes him a tragic hero. It is no justification for infidelity, but for Troy to admit his tragic flaw and accept his fate is what redeems him.

August Wilson’s main character is an imperfect man. He is hardly a loving father, but his love shines through his actions and his decisions to make those actions. Troy saw Cory was afraid of people disliking him, and took it upon himself to help Cory face reality, far away from sports and television, in order to help him survive in the harsh, prejudiced world they live in as African Americans. Despite Cory’s reluctance to obey his father, Troy refused to lay a violent hand on his son, or anyone for that matter, and did what he could to protect his family without becoming the spitting image of his own father. Overcome by impulse and temptation, Troy succumbs to his flaws, and ruins what he worked so hard to build; a protective fence to keep his family away from harm. Troy Maxson is painted as prideful, and perhaps arrogant and stubborn, but he takes it upon himself to build a protective fence around his family, even if it means protecting them from himself. As Bono says, “some people build fences to keep people out… and other people build fences to keep people in” (61).