How does masculinity play a role in Fences?

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Masculinity is one of the metaphorical "fences" in the play. Troy, particularly, but also Cory, Lyons, and Gabriel struggle with, and are limited by, notions of masculinity which often have nothing to do with who they are or whom they wish to be. 

Lyons, it seems, has been less impacted than the other characters, for he has the courage to pursue his creative interests, even if they render him less able to provide. He is adamant about the necessity of his musical expression, for it gives him a sense of identity and purpose. It is possible to read Gabriel as a kind of foil for Lyons. He desperately blows on his trumpet, which emits no sound. Gabriel has a metal plate in his head as a result of being almost mortally wounded in the Second World War. He did what men were expected to do at the time: go to war, an act that had the opposite effect on his construction of identity, as he lost his power of expression.

Decades later, Cory repeats his uncle's act by going into the military during a time that is supposed to be the eve of the Vietnam War. Despite his father's rejection, based on Troy's jealousy over his son's prospects as an athlete, Cory accepts a path in life that Troy might have approved—one that offers financial stability and structure.

Troy's sense of impotence—that is, his inability to control his destiny—is mitigated, in his own mind, by his sexual virility. He learned this habit from his father, a man who was so committed to his supposed right to be with whichever girl or woman he wanted that he raped Troy's thirteen-year-old girlfriend. 

When Troy tells Rose about Roberta, he speaks of a relationship in which he was able to forget his troubles. Rose counters this male entitlement, based on an erroneous notion of masculinity, with a confession of her own sexual impulses which she chose to channel back into her family and her marriage. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that masculinity occupies a very strong role in the play.  One of the reasons why it is so dominant in the drama is because the social setting in which the men are situated is one where the exact definition of what it means to be considered a "man" is one where there is question.  The social setting into which Lyons, Cory, Troy, Bono, and Gabriel is one where there is an absence of verifiable structure that can help to provide what it means to be a "man."  As a result, the males of the play struggle to find and establish what this means.  This translates into conflict, sometimes with one another and sometimes within one another.  Troy experiences challenge with this conception.  His background, in terms of his challenges with his father, as well as the social obstacles he faces helps to create a vision of masculinity that is open to question.  Part of the reason why Troy struggles is that there is no "blueprint" for him to follow.  Troy is an actor, thrust on the stage and the glare of the spotlight, where there is no director, script, or directions.  Rather, there is simply the need to "act."  This is why there is no clear vision of masculinity in the play, and why the issue is constantly present.  Lyons' vision of masculinity is skewed given his relationship with his father, whom he uses as a source of money lending only.  Cory's challenges with Troy is one where masculinity battles against masculinity.  In the end, the challenges of masculinity are ones that plague the men of the drama.