To what degree are the conflicts in this play caused by racism or social inequality?Why does the play highlight prejudice in sports through Troy'svoice.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that race plays a critical role in Wilson's "Fences."  I think that there is a level of psychological pain and torment that probably supersedes the issue of race, but social inequality is definitely a factor in the stories present.  Troy has experienced the sting of racial discrimination and a lack of social opportunity and this plays a critical role in how he approaches life.  For example, we can see at the opening of the play that the issue of racial bias plays a role in denial of opportunity (See the discussion of why there are only White drivers on the truckers' route.)  We also know that Troy's dreams of playing professional baseball were slighted in part due to the denial of racial opportunity.  It is interesting that Wilson discusses the issue of parenting in the play.  Troy's own background was a combination of neglect and abuse.  This is the only way he knows how to raise a child and serve as the head of a family.  While he does provide for his family financially and sees through his responsibilities for his affair with Alberta, we do not see an emotional type of connection to his family that is predicated on nurturing, understanding, and compassion.  It is difficult, and probably not authentic, to generate this all to racial discrimination.  It is more psychological.  However, Wilson seems to be making the point that in many communities of color, the emotional blighting is part psychology, but also in part due to the anger and sting of racism and denial of opportunity.  It festers at the core of psychological and emotional abuse. One should also note that there is an emotional gap in the family once Troy confesses his affair.  Wilson might be suggesting that racism and its bitterness creeps into all associations, creating a situation that supplants hope and transformation with emotional detachment and certain emptiness.  Again, one has to see both race and psychology working in tandem to wear people down.

The conflict between father and son is provoked, in large part, to a generational shift between both, but race is present, there as well.  The son, Cory, has a passion for football.  He is in love with it and wants to play the game.  As the father, Troy is adamant that his son abandons his passion and return to his job at the grocers.  However, the father is probably transferring his heartbreak of his own experiences with professional sports, caused by racism, on to his son.  Wilson is quite pointed in his assertion that there is a level of discrimination in sports and it strikes at the heart of those who possess a dream to escape racial bias.  That is to say, individuals who experience racism might seek to engage in sports as a way to combat it.  The notion of a dream that exists in playing a sport one loves can be a way to transcend the sting of racism.  Yet, there is something brutally painful when racism is involved in that dream.  When one seeks to escape something only to find that they are running only to what they sought to escape, the results are exponential in their bitterness.  We see this with Troy.  In his own way, he wishes to escape this with his son.