In Fences, what is significant about Gabriel's injuries and their cause? What is significant about his actions in the final scene? What might his final, “frightful realization” be, and why might “the gates of heaven stand open as wide as God’s closet” only after that realization and the “atavistic” dance that follows it?

In August Wilson's Fences, Gabriel's injury and the resulting mental disability give him an open nature that connects with spirituality and faith, giving way to his "atavistic" dance and howl that opens the gates of heaven "as wide as God's closet."

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When Gabriel is introduced, Wilson states that Gabriel was “injured in World War II,” and “he has a metal plate in his head.” He also "carries an old trumpet tied around his waist and believes with every fiber of his being that he is the Archangel Gabriel” (act 1, scene 2).

From his introduction, the audience is aware of Gabriel’s mental disabilities and his connection to Christianity. Gabriel is not cynical and therefore is not burdened by the same everyday concerns of the rest of the characters. Throughout the play, Gabriel is a moralistic touchstone for the less than ethical characters around him, even as these characters take advantage of him and his disability.

In the final scene, Troy’s funeral, Gabriel attends so he can “tell St. Peter to open the gates” (act 2, scene 5). When he finally tries to blow his trumpet, no sound comes out. Gabriel is “exposed to a frightful realization.” The audience can infer that Gabriel realizes that he does not have the connection to Christianity that was such a large part of his identity. In reaction to this, he begins a “slow, strange dance, eerie and live-giving … of atavistic signature and ritual.” This dance signifies Gabriel giving up on Christianity and instead connecting to a ritual of his African heritage. When he finishes his dance, “the gates of heaven stand open as wide as God’s closet.” It is Gabriel’s open nature and his role of the "wise fool" in the play that allow him to be open to both the spirituality of Christianity and his African heritage. His actions provide redemption and a sense of closure to the story.

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