Which character deserves more sympathy in Fences, Troy or Cory?

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Sympathizing with Cory is often easier in the play than sympathizing with his father Troy, but Troy, ultimately, is the more tragic figure, presenting and communicating more depth of emotion than any other character and deserving of greater consideration. 

We naturally sympathize with Cory when he honestly and openly asks his father, "Why don't you like me?" Troy's response is that he does not have to like his son. This response is not encouraging for Cory. Rather, it pushes Cory further from the hope that he can ever gain Troy's approval. 

Cory is a figure of relative powerlessness in the play. Though he challenges Troy's authority on three occasions, he is defeated each time. The first of these episodes comes when Troy exerts his power over his son by pulling him from the football team in response to Cory's attempt to defy him.

When Cory quits his job to concentrate on football, his father retaliates by going to the coach and forbidding Cory to play.

Subjected to the difficult personality of his father, we have an easy time sympathizing with Cory, a boy looking for approval and opportunity and being denied both. However, despite Troy's treatment of his son, there is a reason to sympathize with Troy and even pity him. 

Troy, like his son, is characterized by a certain powerlessness. He deeply hopes that Cory will achieve something in his life that will keep him from the daily toil and negative work conditions that characterize Troy's life and that of Troy's father. 

Yet the father is unwilling to let the son attempt something that may bring him success; Troy is afraid that the world of white-dominated sports will only break Cory's heart.

The great weakness of Troy's character is his inability to change. Unable to change his ways and his views, Troy repeats the same mistakes his own father made and creates a rivalry with his son that ultimately destroys the relationship. 

...it is more than a desire to control Cory's success that is at the heart of Troy's actions. He truly fails to see that the world has changed in the past twenty years.

Troy wants to protect his son from experiencing the same bitter disappointments he experienced. This paternal impulse is certainly sympathetic and our sympathy for Troy's good intentions are only enhanced when considered alongside his true inability to show his son affection. 

The world has ingrained in Troy traits of hardness, boldness and bluster,  and his personal challenge is to recognize that these are things he can change about himself. Change, for Troy, proves impossible. This is the nature of his tragedy. Despite his strength of character, he is unable to change. 

History has shaped Troy in ways that he is powerless to reverse or alter. 


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