Discuss the significance of the title Fences as it relates to characters, themes, and events of the play.

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The play Fences was written by African-American writer August Wilson in 1985. It is the sixth installment in Wilson’s ten-part series, Pittsburgh Cycle. In 1987, it was awarded both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The title of the play, Fences, symbolizes its central themes and the relationships of the characters to one another. Its literal presence in the play is Troy and Cory’s long-standing construction of a fence for their home. Figuratively, however, it refers to the many types of intangible barriers that surround Troy and his loved ones—the emotional barrier between Troy and Cory, between Troy and Rose, and the racial and socio-economic barriers that have hounded Troy all his life.

In act 2, scene 1, fences are described as barriers that serve to either keep something out or keep something in. Tony believes in the former while Rose believes in the latter—thus, the construction of a fence for their home serves to emphasize the contrast between their personal values. It is also in this way that their eventual split is foreshadowed.

The resolution of the play comes in the character of Troy’s brother, Gabriel, who is named after the archangel. At Troy’s funeral, Gabriel arrives to blow his trumpet and open the gates of St. Peter for his brother. When his trumpet refuses to sound, he performs a ritualistic dance that opens the gates of heaven. Thus, the play is concluded with the dissolution of the barriers which were a source of pain and frustration for Tony all his life—in his death, the “fences” were finally opened.

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To add to the previous answer for this question, there is a really poignant scene in the play that points directly to the importance of the title. In Act Two, Scene One, the story is well established as a conflict between Troy and his inner demons as well as a conflict between Troy and his family members. Cory, his son, and Rose, his wife, have different expectations of him than he has of himself, and vice versa. This scene in Act Two reveals some of those misunderstood expectations, and it reveals how the fence stands as a symbol for the type of love and relationships the family members value, particularly Rose, who asked Troy and Cory to build the fence.

In this scene, Bono, Troy's friend from work, is visiting as he usually does, and Cory is helping Troy cut the wood for the fence. Cory comments that he doesn't understand why his mother wants a fence built anyway, and Troy agrees that he doesn't understand, since they don't own many valuable things that people would want to steal. To this, Bono responds:

"Some people build fences to keep people out...and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you."

Rose's role in the family is the role of peacemaker and caretaker, so this idea of the fence symbolizing an embrace, a surrounding mother's arms, is relevant to her character. Ultimately, the fact that the fence takes so long to build and is unfinished for most of the play contributes to the idea that Troy and Cory will not be kept. Troy will cheat and die before long, and Cory will join the military and move away. The fence, which was meant to pull everyone together, will serve more as a catalyst for their parting and as a shell for Rose and baby Raynell to retreat into once they are left alone.

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The significance of a fence in this play is that it serves a dual purpose -it keeps people in and it also keeps them out, both literally and figuratively.

The most obvious fence is the literal fence that is being built throughout the play. A physical fence implies ownership (and this play can be viewed as the African American version of the American Dream theme of home ownership). Building a fence around your home is a way to claim it as yours by determining who can and cannot leave.

For Troy, there is a figurative fence that keeps him stifled at work. He asks the question of why the blacks are always lifting the trash while the whites are driving the trucks. He sees this as a fence created by the white majority to keep the black minority in their place socio-economically.

Another fence is the fence that kept Troy in place during his time in prison. In this case, the walls kept him inside. When he builds a fence around his own home, he is able to keep his family inside (not literally, but it acts as a barrier between his family and the dangers of the world around him).

Finally, the characters build fences between each other. Troy and Rose have a fence between them from the standpoint of gender difference. Troy cannot express to Rose the same emotions he can express to Alberta. This is one example of fences built between people. Another lies in the Troy and Cory dichotomy. Troy tries to fence Cory in by keeping him from pursuing his dreams because he believes that Cory will fail and wants to protect him from that.

Each character has a fence of some sort that he or she has created either to keep others out or to lock himself or herself inside. Gabriel is the only exception. The simplicity of his beliefs, while flawed from the perspective of "normal" society, actually allow him to transcend self and societally imposed fences.

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