How does Troy's past affect his future in Fences?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is this question that strikes at the heart of Wilson's protagonist.  Troy is a product of his past.  He wishes not to be, presenting himself as a picture of the present.  Yet, in everything he does, Troy's past profoundly impacts his present and future.  His childhood would be a good starting point in such an analysis.  Troy's own father was abusive.  This impacts his relationship with his children in that he is unable to express any emotions that represent love and nurturing, for these were never really shown to him as a child.  He has no role model for this, and while he does try to be a good father, particularly to Cory, he cannot fully grasp the nuances and painful subtleties of good parenting as his own past did not possess this.  Another example of how his past affects the future would be his time in prison.  He excelled at baseball.  Yet, when he is released, the integration of the Major Leagues costs him a chance at his dream.  This impacts his present and future in two distinct ways.  The first is that he never reconciles his past dream of playing ball with his current reality of working as a garbage man.  The past's hopes never fully mesh with the present reality.  At the same time, when future dreams in the hope of Cory wanting to play football present itself, Troy allows his own past failures and shortcomings to color and temper how he approaches Cory's.  In this, his own past casts a shadow on his own present and Cory's future.  Finally, when looking at Bono's description of the "walking blues," a condition of the past generation that prevented them from being able to embrace happiness and continue wandering for something unknown and undefined, one sees again how the past influences the future.  Jim recognized these signs in his own father and his Troy's father and he warns against this same syndrome to visit Troy.  Yet, with his relationship with Alberta and the constant state of unhappiness that is in Troy's life in the Second Act, one sees how the past state of "walking blues" impacts Troy's present and future.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Troy has faced a great deal of racism and imposed barriers because of his race, and he thinks that these same barriers will affect his sons, even though there have been some changes since Troy was young. For example, Troy could not play major league baseball because the baseball leagues were not integrated in his day. Though the leagues have since become integrated, starting with Jackie Robinson, Troy believes that his son, Cory, will not be allowed to play football because of his race. Though Rose tries to tell Troy that times have changed, Troy wants both of his sons, Cory and Lyons, to get safe jobs and to stop dreaming (Lyons dreams of being a jazz musician). Troy believes that racism will continue to limit his sons' choices, so they should take whatever jobs they can get.

The past has clearly depressed Troy. He is not able to engage fully with his family and to commit himself to them, in part because he is wary of the future. He believes that death stalks him continuously, and he does things to sabotage his marriage, such as carrying out an affair with Alberta, because he doesn't quite ever believe that things can be good. His past makes him forever wary and nervous about the future.