“Fences” by August Wilson Literature Analysis Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


Reputedly, Fences is one of the most famous dramas in American literature. In 1983 August Wilson wrote a story of a man who built fences around himself. The play is full of metaphors concerning fences which reveal the major theme and idea, building fences. Depicting the life of the average African American family Wilson articulates the universal truth that if “someone builds a fence, the builder is at once fencing in and fencing out” (Bloom 139).

It is important to point out that Wilson portrays negative outcomes of such building in a very lively manner. The dramatic structure of the play, use of numerous metaphors, and, of course, depiction of such a modern hero as Troy make Wilson’s ideas obtain physical form.

Dramatic structure of the play

Admittedly, drama “is not flexible as other forms of literature” (McMahan et al. 736). The playwright is limited in time and space, so it is essential to be precise when writing a play. Wilson manages to reveal his ideas within the necessary limits. The story is told in two major parts. The first part is revealed in the very beginning of the play, more so, in the very setting of the play: “a small dirt yard, partially fenced” (Wilson 788).

In this first part of the play Wilson portrays the process of building fences. Troy’s memories, Troy’s dialogues with the members of his family make the viewer see how Troy is building his fences, and why he is doing that. The image of the incomplete fence enhances the idea of building fences.

The second part of the play is its very ending. This part reveals the outcomes of fences building. Troy is buried. Now he is completely fenced from the rest of the world. The fence around the yard is completed. This part of the play is concerned with the outcomes of fence building. Wilson draws a conclusion in this part: a man, who is trying to build a fence around himself, manages to do it, but he fences himself in, and makes this person absolutely lonely.

This specific structure makes the play really appealing since the playwright ends his story with a strong and evocative scene when insane brother of Troy, Gabriel, opens the heavenly gates to his brother and makes him free from the fences Troy was building during his life. Of course, the viewer understands that the fences are destroyed too late.

This makes the end very strong, since the viewer starts thinking about his/her own fences. It goes without saying that such a dramatic structure serves the major aim of the play: to reveal the negative outcomes of building fences.

Troy – the modern hero

Admittedly, to reveal his ideas Wilson uses one more tool. He creates a lively modern character. It is necessary to point out that Wilson’s Troy is one of the brightest examples of the modern hero since he is not only bad or good, only tragic or comic (McMahan et al. 786). Troy is a living man who is characterized by myriads of good and bad features.

Sometimes he is too distant from his wife and children. For instance, in his talk with his friend Troy confesses about his love affair, but at the same time it is possible to feel that he loves his wife and sometime can express his affection (Wilson 790-791). Troy can be characterized as a stern father, but he still loves his children. Even in his disapproval of his son’s longing to enter big sport it is possible to feel care.

Troy simply does not want his son, Cory, to experience the same disappointment: “I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports” (Wilson 806).

Of course, times has changed and Cory has a real chance to become a famous and successful player, but Troy does not see the changes because the fence he built in his mind is too high to see it (Wilson 805). Thus, Wilson creates a hero who is, so to speak, multifaceted. This characteristic feature of the modern hero Troy makes it possible to understand why he built the fence around him.

Metaphors and symbols – direct messages to the audience

It goes without saying that the image of the main character and his fences is enhanced by the use of metaphors and symbols which play essential role in revealing the playwright’s ideas. Admittedly, the major symbol of the play is physical representation of the fence, which is incomplete in the first part of the play and is finished in the second, culmination part of the play.

The viewer is exposed to the major idea of the play all the time. Troy is building a fence around his yard in the real world and around himself in his mind. He wants to defend himself from the hostile world, but instead he isolates himself. Troy’s fences do not let him see numerous opportunities which appear in a rapidly changing world.

Interestingly, Troy also uses numerous metaphors dreaming about “swinging for the fences” (Bloom 139). Wilson’s main character does not admit he has built fences (does not see new opportunities and does not always let somebody in), but he still wants to escape from the metaphorical fences. Troy wants to go beyond his own fences. These metaphors also enhance the idea of being imprisoned in one’s own fences.

One of the most evocative symbols of the play is the final performance of Gabriel who is breaking the fences for his brother and sets him free. Notably, Wilson articulates an idea that in many cases only insane can ruin fences whereas “normal” people build new ones.

This idea is articulated by the scene when Lyons is trying to stop Gabriel when he is “opening” the gates for Troy (Wilson 834). Admittedly, these are only some of the brightest metaphors used in the play. And the whole scope of these metaphors reveals the major idea of the play.


In conclusion, it is possible to note that Wilson made his idea of the negative outcomes of building fences absolutely explicit in his famous play. More so, specific structure of the play, numerous metaphors and symbols create a complete picture of fences which can exist in human life.

Moreover, Wilson’s modern hero, Troy, is a kind of illustration of a fenced individual. Wilson reveals his sorrows and his happy moments, but apart from all this Wilson claims that any fences lead to loneliness. Notable, Wilson’s expressive and emotional play makes people think of their own fences and their own ways in the world.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. August Wilson. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009.

McMahan, Elizabeth, Susan Day, Robert Funk. Literature and the Writing Process. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.

Wilson, August. “Fences.” Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan Day, Robert Funk. Literature and the Writing Process. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 788-834.

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