In Fences, how do Troy's life experiences effect his relationships with his sons?
Though the primary father-son relationship is between Troy and Cory—a relationship whose contention is borne from their similar dream, as well as Troy's transference of his fears and envy onto Cory—Troy's relationship with Lyons, his eldest child, is one defined by contrast.
The audience meets Lyons when he goes to Troy's house to ask for ten dollars. Lyons is married to a woman with a job in a hospital laundry, but does not have regular work. This gives Troy an opportunity to elevate himself—a hard-working man for the city—above his son. Troy's values and experience align him with many Americans who believe that any job is better than no job, and that one's worth is determined by your ability to make a living. Lyons, however, has rejected the traditional American dream and seeks his own:
But I got to live too. I need something that gonna help me to get out of the bed in the morning. Make me feel like I belong in the world. I don’t bother nobody. I just stay with my music cause that’s the only way I can find to live in the world. Otherwise there ain’t no telling what I might do. Now I don’t come criticizing you and how you live. I just come by to ask you for ten dollars. I don’t wanna hear all that about how I live.
For Lyons, his self-worth is determined by creating something—jazz music—that affirms his existence. Troy thinks that making a living affirms his existence because this is what he has been taught. Unlike Lyons, he does not have the courage to defy convention, and his failure at baseball taught him that it was folly to follow one's dreams. However, Troy, too, has a desire to reaffirm his existence and does this through his affair with Roberta and his acceptance of the child they have together. Troy's job and family give him security, but not the purpose that Lyons has through his art. With Roberta, he suddenly had purpose again, as well as the courage to think that he could try something new:
Then when I saw that gal . . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried . . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second?
His decision brings a new tension between him and Cory. Cory views Troy's infidelity as a slight against his mother and a rejection of the family. Because Troy does not know how to communicate with his sons, and has no desire to learn, the result is physical confrontation.
Troy's relationship with both his sons, Lyons and Cory, are dominated by his own relationship with his father.
His father was brutal and controlling, and although Troy loves Cory, he knows of no other way to bring up a son. Thus, he repeats the mistakes of the previous generation.
There is some irony in this, and perhaps even some tragedy, as Troy deeply resents his father and never forgives him for the way he was treated, as chattel and then as a rival.
Much of the irony here stems from the idea that Troy treats his sons as he does, especially Cory, due to a desire to avoid a repetition of history. Troy does not want Cory to grow up to haul garbage like he does. This is why Troy refuses to let Cory play football, despite the fact that this sport would allow Cory to attend college.
Worried that Cory would sacrifice an opportunity to gain real, work-related skills by pursuing football, Troy also worries that Cory will suffer from the same disappointment he did as a baseball player (kept out of the big leagues because of race). Troy wants Cory to have a better life than he had and this leads him to curb Cory's dreams.
Cory represents all the possibilities his father never had, but he also represents Troy's unmet dreams.
By squashing Cory's dreams of playing football and going to college, Troy believes he is setting his son up for success. Cory sees things differently, interpreting Troy's behavior as mere jealousy and rivalry. Cory's view is accurate but incomplete.
Troy is so bitter over his own lack of opportunity that he holds his son back from any success he might achieve.
Troy's intentions are to provide opportunities for his sons to become men with an understanding of duty and a chance at success. Regrettably, he enacts these intentions without kindness.
Though Cory comes to a moral maturity in the end, taking responsibility for his own emotional development, Troy dies before doing so, caught up in the battle against death and against himself, which he cannot possibly win.
Troy grew up in a time of strict segregation, and he was prevented from playing baseball in integrated leagues. As a result, he feels that his son Cory will have no chance of being allowed to play football with white players. Though Rose, Troy's wife, tries to convince him that times have changed, Troy still feels that the world won't let a black man succeed.
As a result, Troy advises his sons to take the safest route possible. He discourages Cory from playing football. Troy's advice is to follow the safest route possible, such as working in the A&P or working on a garbage truck. He doesn't believe achieving dreams is possible, and he also constantly fears death, showing that he has a pessimistic and dim view of his possibilities in life. He passes along this view to his sons.