How is the theme of betrayal depicted in Fences?

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In Fences, Wilson depicts the theme of betrayal through Troy’s betrayal of family members like Rose and through society’s betrayal of African Americans.

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In the play Fences, August Wilson explores several meanings of the word betrayal. For instance, he explores how betrayal impacts families. Consider how Troy cheats on his wife, Rose, with Alberta. In doing this, he betrays her trust and his family begins to fall apart. However, when Cory does not want to go to Troy’s funeral, Rose insists he does. She is adamant that Cory show his father respect even though Cory and Troy did not get along. In her view, not attending Troy’s funeral would be a form of familial betrayal.

Wilson also examines how American society has betrayed African American people. Consider how Wilson describes what life was like for African Americans in Northern cities in his introduction to the play. He notes that these cities once welcomed European immigrants but that African Americans had a different experience. He writes,

The descendants of African slaves were offered no such welcome or participation … They came to the city strong, eager, searching. The city rejected them, and they fled and settled along the river banks and under the bridges in shallow, ramshackle houses made of sticks and tar paper.

In a way, it is as if America itself has betrayed African Americans, as the promise of Northern freedom and economic success was not granted to them. Similarly, recall how one of the reasons Troy is so bitter is that he was young before African Americans could play in Major League Baseball. He abandoned his dream because of this racial divide, but as an adult, he sees that Black people are allowed to play. He feels betrayed by society and, in a way, by life itself, because he was not young when a time came in which he could have gone after his dream. He then transferred his anger and hurt over this to Cory by not letting him pursue football.

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