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).
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