Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Troy Maxson, the protagonist of August Wilson’s Fences, is the son of a frustrated sharecropper whose harshness drove off his wives and Troy. Troy has made his way north to a world where African Americans live in shacks and are unable to find work. Troy takes to stealing, kills a man, and is sent to prison, where he learns how to play baseball, which he loves and at which he excels. Segregation confines Troy, after prison, to the Negro Leagues. He is angry at the racism that frustrates his attempt at achieving the American Dream in the most American of sports, but he remains resilient. Fences celebrates his indomitable spirit, while acknowledging his flaws.
The play opens in 1957, when Troy is fifty-three years old. He is appealing in the zest with which he dramatizes his life. A battle with pneumonia becomes a time when he wrestles with a white-robed and hooded Death, and buying furniture on credit from a white man becomes making a deal with the devil. His friend Bono seems to acknowledge the African American tradition of these tall tales when he comments: “You got some Uncle Remus in your blood.” The audience learns of Troy’s admirable defiance at work in questioning the sanitation department’s policy of having all the whites drive while the blacks do the lifting. Troy also has an affectionate teasing relationship with Bono and his wife Rose.
As the play continues, however, Troy erects fences between himself and...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Longtime friends Troy Maxson and Jim Bono are participating in their Friday (payday) night ritual of drinking and talking on Troy’s porch. They discuss a complaint Troy had filed about working conditions that deny black garbage workers the opportunity to drive garbage trucks. Jim shifts the conversation to the subject of Alberta, for whom he believes Troy has more than a passing interest, but Troy denies the accusation.
Rose, Troy’s wife, joins Troy and Jim on the porch. Troy explains to Jim about how he and Rose first met; Rose corrects his version of what happened. Troy and Rose disagree about shopping at the local black grocery store versus shopping at the A&P supermarket. Their difference of opinion continues when they discuss their teenage son, Cory, and his plans to play college football. Troy tells a story about how he had wrestled Death and won. Lyons, Troy’s son by an earlier marriage, stops by. Troy anticipates that he wants to borrow money. Lyons rejects Troy’s offer to get him a job because it is his music that gives his life meaning. Troy directs his son to get ten dollars from Rose, because she is the one who gets her husband’s paycheck every Friday.
The next morning, Rose sings while she hangs up the laundry, and Troy considers her playing the numbers as a waste of money. Gabriel, Troy’s younger brother, visits. He suffers from a World War II brain injury, which has left him mentally deficient. He carries with...
(The entire section is 1429 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Wilson received his first Pulitzer Prize for Fences, which also won several Tony Awards during its Broadway run. The powerful family drama is set during the 1950’s, when the first hints of change in race relations often gave rise to generational conflicts between hopeful young black men and their wary, experience-scarred parents.
The play was inspired by Wilson’s memories of his own stepfather, a onetime high school football player who had hoped to win an athletic scholarship and study medicine, only to find that no college in Pittsburgh would give a scholarship to a black player.
In Fences, Wilson’s stepfather, Troy Maxson, is a proud, hardworking garbageman who once played baseball in the Negro Leagues. Embittered by the disappointments of his own life, Troy refuses to believe that times have changed when his son, Cory, is offered a football scholarship. Certain that athletics hold no hope of a better life for his son, Troy refuses to sign the necessary papers, effectively denying Cory his chance at a college education. Troy also deeply angers his wife when she learns that he has fathered a child by another woman, an act that destroys the bond that has held the couple together throughout their bleak life together.
At the heart of the play’s father/son conflict is an unbridgeable disparity between Troy and Cory’s abilities to believe that society can indeed change the way it treats black Americans....
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Act I Summary
Act I, scene i
The play opens with Troy and Bono engaged in their usual Friday night ritual of drinking and talking. Troy has made a formal complaint to his bosses that only white men are permitted to drive the garbage trucks for the waste disposal company at which both men work. The two men finish their discussion of work, and Bono asks Troy about a woman, Alberta, he suspects Troy of seeing. Troy denies that he would risk losing his wife, Rose, but Bono does not give up so easily and reminds Troy that he has been seen at Alberta's house when he said he was elsewhere.
Their conversation is interrupted by Troy's wife, Rose, who enters the yard. Their conversation about where to shop is interrupted by Lyons's entrance. Lyons is Troy's son by a previous marriage. He has come by because he knows that his father gets paid on Fridays; he is in need of a loan and asks his father for ten dollars. Troy pointedly notes that Lyons needs to get a job. Lyons's reply is that his father had no hand in raising him, and thus, he has no right to chastise or complain about how Lyons is living his life. Rose intervenes and gives Lyons the money.
Act I, scene ii
Rose is hanging clothes on the line. Troy enters and they begin to banter about Rose's habit of playing numbers (a form of betting, like a lottery). Troy thinks it foolish and a waste of money, but Rose finds this little bit of gambling to be a harmless...
(The entire section is 783 words.)
Act II Summary
Troy has just returned from bailing Gabriel out of jail. Bono is with him, and, in response to his friend's concern about Rose, Troy admits that he has been seeing another woman and that she is going to have his baby. Rose enters the yard as Bono is leaving. Troy realizes that with a child coming, he must accept responsibility for what he has done. He tells Rose that he is to be the father to another woman's child. His response to her anger and pain is an admission that the other woman offers an escape from his responsibilities. She makes him forget the endless repetition of his life for a few moments. The scene ends in a confrontation between Rose, Troy, and Cory that stops just short of physical violence.
Act II, scene ii
It is six months later, and it is clear that the relationship between Rose and Troy has been severed. Although Troy gives his wife his paycheck, he is spending almost all his time with Alberta. Troy and Rose argue, but their fight is interrupted by a phone call telling them that the baby has been born but that the mother has died. The scene ends with Troy yelling at death, vowing to build a fence around his house and those he loves to keep death away.
Act II, scene iii
Troy returns with the infant, whom he has named Raynell, and he and Rose agree that she will raise the child, who should not be punished for her parents' sins.
Act II, scene iv
(The entire section is 533 words.)