Argue that Troy's shortcomings as a father and a husband can be explained by studying Troy's own upbringing and life experiences.

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

August Wilson’s Fences can be seen as a play about cycles of behavior. Troy in particular is “fenced in” by a pattern of behavior that he learned from his own father. In turn, he attempts to perpetuate this cycle with his son Cory, whether by unthinking instinct or through a choice that is fueled by resentment or competition.

The question of why Troy repeats the pattern of father-son conflict is open to interpretation, but Troy’s history is recounted rather clearly.

When he was a teenager, Troy got into a fight with his father over a girl. Troy was fourteen and the girl was thirteen. When Troy leaves his chores undone to go “fooling around with Joe Canewell’s daughter,” his father finds him and whips him.

Now I thought he was mad cause I ain’t done my work. But I see where he was chasing me off so he could have the gal for himself. When I see what the matter of it was, I lost all fear of my daddy. Right there is where I became a man…at fourteen years of age.

Troy attacks his father and wakes up with two swollen eyes. He breaks from his father and goes off on his own.

While there is no woman that comes between Troy and Cory, we might wonder if there is jealousy nonetheless. Cory has been offered an opportunity to go to college (something Troy never did) to potentially pursue a sports career (which Troy wishes he had been able to do). Troy shuts down Cory’s dream of going to college and attempts to intimidate his son at every turn. Troy’s attitude is combative and his rule is absolute.

When Cory lashes out at his father, the cycle is complete. Only when Cory returns after Troy’s death does the cycle seem to be broken. Thanks to Rose’s intervention, Cory agrees to attend the funeral and this act suggests that the hardness of heart that had dominated the father-son relationships in the family has softened.

Additionally, Troy describes his father as being a man who acted as if normal rules of morality did not apply to him. Troy similarly eschews the sense that he is beholden to rules governing honesty and fidelity, excusing himself so that he can lie to his employers for his own benefit and cheat on his wife. The agony that Troy experiences does serve to complicate his character and we are able to empathize with him, given his personal history and the racial history that influences his experiences.

We might look at Troy and see a man that has been forced to take what power is available to him – or, at least, he has been convinced that taking and demanding and exerting strength is the only way to rise above a state of powerlessness. If he lies and cheats and tells stories that make him look like a victim, he does so in order to create a space in his life (or in his perspective) wherein the indignities he has suffered justify those that he inflicts on others, wherein he is beyond reproach.  

While Troy’s own choices may seem to have authored his personal history, there is reason to see that, for Troy, there was never a chance to make the right choice. Thus, when given a chance to help his son rise above his own station, Troy fails. Instead of investing in Cory’s success, Troy acts on an impulse to defend what pride of position he has achieved.