Discuss the symbolism of the fence in the play Fences by August Wilson.

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

August Wilson uses the title Fences to reveal how people have their own interpretation of what a fence may be needed for or what it may do. There are the obvious literal understandings of a fence, as being a boundary; whether to physically keep people in or out. However, the symbolic meaning goes much deeper and, as seen in Fences, it represents so many different things, with both positive and negative connotations. 

For Rose, the fence is all about protection and keeping her family safe, as she says, "Jesus, be a fence around me every day , Jesus, I want you to protect me as I travel on my way..." For Troy, it has several meanings, depending on his circumstances at any given time. For Troy, the fence serves more as a barrier than a protective environment and his efforts and reputation for being a big hitter are themselves significant as he is known for sending the ball over the fence but, in reality, he is never really able to take the actual step of overcoming the imaginary boundary that he has created by distancing himself from friends and family. Fences hide many things and they allow people to hide their own emotions, from themselves and others, such as Troy does. Fences, for Troy, mean constantly having to make compromises. 

Troy's vision of a bleak future causes tragedy in his life and destroys his relationship with Cory, his son. Troy's anger becomes his defining characteristic as he is unable to escape his own figurative fences, let alone the ones which society has already dictated. Physically building the fence, for Rose, and failing to complete it, confirms that it is the imagined fences that do the most damage. Communication is a major factor because eliminating barriers causes conflict as well as relief. There is no simple resolution and even the fence that Troy does eventually complete still fails to provide him with answers. This is reinforced by the fact that Troy's family is only able to start their own healing process at Troy's funeral. 

The fact that there is so much potential for good but that a refusal to recognize his own part in maintaining the destructive nature of fences, ensures that the play sends a very poignant message.