What is the message of the play Fences?
Fences shows the impact of racism on a family, and especially its patriarch, Troy Maxson, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as the Civil Rights movement was gaining stream and the world for Black people was beginning to change.
The play emphasizes the ways Troy has been damaged by racism and the way his internal damage impacts his family. Troy has a keen awareness of race and how institutional racism has limited his chances in life. He says, for example, that Black people are
born with two strikes on [them] before [they] come to the plate.
He speaks often of the devil and identifies it at times with the Ku Klux Klan, a potent symbol of racism and terror. He speaks of the disappointments Black people face: for example, coming to Pittsburgh was not the promised land he had hoped, because institutional racism existed there as well as in the South: Troy says, "you couldn't find no place to live."
Troy takes advantage of the moment of racial change he is living through during the play to get a job driving a garbage truck rather than working on the back of one, but that, too, turns out to be a disappointment, as Troy finds it lonely, showing that it is more than racism that plagues him: what plagues him is something universal in the human experience.
Troy's pain and damage have an impact on his family: he narrowly defines his responsibilities as physically providing food and shelter for them, but he is incapable of providing the love and emotional nurturing they need.
The message is that fences are not only external, such as those that prevented Black people from living in certain neighborhoods or having certain jobs, but also internal, such as those that people build in themselves and in relationships.