What do fences symbolize in Fences?

In Fences, the fence is symbolic of emotional boundaries. While Rose sees the fence as an expression of domestic love, Troy sees it as another kind of constraint to his freedom.

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The fence in the play has many possible symbolic meanings. For one thing, the fence is a project Troy's wife, Rose, has wanted finished for a long time; Troy's inability to complete the fence or to work on it in any sustained way is emblematic of his own lack of involvement with his wife, whom he is cheating on, and his oppositional relationship with his sons.

The fence also symbolizes the boundary between family and the outside world. Troy, because of his job as a garbage man, lives much of his life beyond this boundary. For Rose, the fence is a way of keeping the people she loves close to her and of keeping out those who would threaten her family. For her, the fence—if Troy could finish it—would be a symbol of the permanence of her love for Troy and her family.

Troy, however, strains against these boundaries. He is bitter over how his life has been constrained by his skin color, another kind of boundary he is unable to cross. His affair with Alberta and his undermining of his son Cory's football career can be seen in relation to those constraints. In this sense, the unfinished fence is representative of his inability to commit to his wife; because of his bitterness, he is unable to build anything solid for himself or his family.

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