How does racism affect Troy in Fences?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Troy feels that he was kept out of the professional baseball leagues because he is African American. He says that he had a higher batting average and more home runs than white men who played for the Yankees, and he claims that he saw the daughter of Josh Gibson (a player for the Negro Leagues) "walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet." Troy is opposed to letting his son, Cory, play college football because he thinks "the white man ain't gonna let him go nowhere with that football." While Rose and Bono tell Troy that times have changed since he was young, Troy still thinks that racism will make it impossible for his son to be accepted as an athlete. He tells Cory and his other son, Lyons (who wants to be a jazz musician), to find a useful job, as that's the only kind of work an African-American man can get.

Troy has also filed a complaint because all of the men who drive garbage trucks are white, and all of the African-American men where he works are lifting the garbage into the trucks. In the end, though, Troy doesn't enjoy driving. He says he misses the companionship of working with other men in the back of the truck, and he's driving by himself to pick up garbage in white people's neighborhoods. Troy feels, though, that he can't hope for more than just being responsible to his family and that dreams—such as playing professional sports or being a musician—are out of the question for him and his family.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way of responding to this excellent question is to consider the way in which fences operate in this provocative play. Clearly, racism is one fence that encloses black characters such as Troy and prevent them from achieving their dreams and hopes. The opening of the play gives us an excellent example of this, as Troy is telling Bono about how he has complained about how it is only white men that can drive the truck for garbage collection, and it is the blacks, like him, who actually have to handle the garbage:

I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, "Why? Why you got the white mens driving and the coloured lifting?" Told him, "what's the matter, don't I count? You think only white fellows got sense enough to drive a truck. That ain't no proper job! Hell, anybody can drive a truck. How come you got all whites driving and the coloured lifting?"

As the play progresses, we see that this is just one way in which racism represents a fence that fences in characters such as Troy and prevents them from achieving their dreams and goals. What is interesting though, is the way that Troy responds to the way that he has been fenced in by wanting to similarly fence in his son and prevent him from trying to acheive his goals and follow his dreams and become a footballer.

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