Generational Struggles of African-Americans in Fences

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Fences successfully depicts the strenuous life of one African-American family during the 1950s and 1960s. This moving play is impactful because the playwright August Wilson uses tragedy to facilitate his message and example of how one family, after generations of failure, achieve success despite racial and societal barriers. Additionally, this play forces readers to evaluate their current day systematic racial and social issues and confront these hidden problems that affect millions of American every day. All in all, Fences is an incredibly important play that highlights the struggles of everyday Americans who have to face the racial and social problems within their society to achieve their dreams.

Masculinity and the expectation that women were to follow and abide by the men greatly impacts this story. After a strenuous fight with her husband Troy, Rose Maxon, the main female character, replies, “I wanted to be there with you. Cause you was my husband. Cause that’s the only way I was going to survive…” (71). This quote implies that Rose’s success as a member of society depended on her husband. Although Rose is naturally gentle, nurturing, and kind (further proving her name as being a motif to the rose flower), the masculinity and social stereotypes of the mid 1900s offer another explanation as to why Rose would be so inclined to stay with a man who treated her with such disgrace. Rose is aware that without her husband she most likely would not have a roof over her head. Additionally, many women at this time were not given the opportunity to have dreams any greater than staying home and being the caretaker of the children. Therefore, without Troy, Rose would be alone and according to society’s definition of success at the time, a failure.

Furthermore, the protagonist Troy feels the societal pressure that comes from being a man as he says, “I go out of here every morning…bust my butt…putting up with them crackers every day…cause I like you? You about the biggest fool I ever saw. (Pause.) 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 you behind on my bedclothes…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!” (38). Troy Maxwell is not only suffering from the emotional scars of his past, but he also has the burden of ensuring the well-being of his family. Troy’s resentment of the past and his inability to achieve his dreams translates into anger and disappointment towards his family. The theme of toxic masculinity is prominent throughout the play as it offers an explanation as to why Troy was allowed to be so violent and unable to provide emotional support for his family. This heroic image of himself and need to be the one who provides for his family can be attributed to his manhood, as men were, and arguably still are, not allowed to show any weakness.

Unfortunately, Troy also feels that his manly superiority is unconquerable even by death. He says, “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner.” (10). A frequent habit of Troy is that he often hides his fear and dismisses reality by using baseball terminology, the one thing he knows best. Troy’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player is crushed, and because men were not allowed to show weakness he consistently uses baseball terminology to downplay his shortcomings and greatest fears, including death. Wilson further exemplifies this connection of baseball and death, as Troy dies holding a baseball bat in his hand: “He was out here swinging that bat… he swung it and stood there with this grin on his face… and then he just fell over.” (95-96). This final connection and symbolization of baseball and death allows Wilson to make this one last message about Troy and his life. All in all, Rose and Troy’s characters and dreams are greatly impacted by gender stereotypes and expectations during the 1960’s.

The most intriguing aspect of Fences is August Wilson’s use of the character’s dreams and aspirations to convey messages. To elaborate, Troy’s son Lyons says, “I just stay with my music because that’s the only way I can find to live in the world.” (18). One of Wilson’s unique stylistic choices for this play is how Lyons and other characters do not end up achieving their dreams. Lyons and his younger brother Cory both have unconventional dreams which challenge Troy’s beliefs of what constitutes a real career, but unlike Cory, Lyons refuses to pursue anything other than music which eventually leads to him following in his father’s footsteps and going to jail. Lyons’s failure to change the generational mistakes that have impacted Troy’s father, Troy, and now Lyons, makes Cory’s success even more prudent.

Cory attending his father’s funeral is another example of how Wilson shows that Cory is the one to end the generations of failure within the Maxon family. Although he was reluctant to go, Cory’s mother Rose says, “Not going to your daddy’s funeral ain’t gonna make you a man… You just like him… You Troy Maxson all over again.” (96-97). Rose’s final push for Cory to attend his father’s funeral is what it takes to end the Maxon family trait of failure. Wilson’s artistic style encompasses using the failure of other characters to illuminate the success of characters like Cory, who are the true heroes of his story.

Fences by playwright August Wilson illustrates the struggles of everyday African-Americans during the mid-1900s. August Wilson’s artistic style successfully pushes the audience to feel emotion for the main characters who are not typical heroes in society, more so the opposite. This dramatic and touching play highlights racial and social issues and uses symbolism to depict the struggles of this problematic family.


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