In the play Fences, to what extent are the conflicts caused by racism or racial/ social inequality? Or are they more universal?

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allie-draper eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tough question! This one is really up to you to decide as a reader. Here are a couple ideas that might help you figure out which side you land on.

Among the conflicts that seem to be caused by racism and social inequality are Troy's difficulties providing for his family. As a black baseball player trying to make a living as an athlete in the 1930s, he was prevented from playing in the Major Leagues—and so was able to save very little money to support the family he was starting. (There is, however, some evidence in the play that he might not have made it into the Major Leagues anyway, since after having served his jail sentence he was older than most of the other players.) He has been successful, however, in his current job as a trash collector, where he fought the company for his right to be a driver instead of a lifter (the job most black garbagemen were assigned).

The racism and discrimination Troy experienced, however, have left him wary. When his son Cory tells him he's been offered a scholarship to play football in college, Troy refuses to let him accept it, citing the discrimination he himself faced as an athlete. The tragedies of his past threaten to ensure he makes a tragedy of his son's future as well.

Some of the conflicts Troy experiences are harder to connect to the discrimination he faced (and still faces). His affair with Alberta costs him a great deal—she becomes pregnant and dies in childbirth, while his wife Rose is alienated (though she agrees to raise the child as her own). His treatment of his brain-damaged younger brother Gabriel is also more difficult to sympathize with, as he sends Gabe to a mental institution and spends the money from Gabe's government checks (recompense for his war injury).

Though Troy has his flaws, he also has a great many virtues. His life was a hard one (and it seems his own father was a poor example). Whether you think his failings are the product of the difficulties he faced or not, it seems his good qualities—in particular his determination and perseverance—have left his family with memories of a good, if flawed, man.