Men are essentially weak in a world that is driven my the American Dream. In fact, this play revolves around that theme and how it is out of reach for African Americans. Consider the opening. It is payday, and Troy is coming home to drink with his buddy Jim. His finances, however, are controlled by his wife. He is emasculated, which is a common theme of African American writers writing about this decade, because he is unable to provide for his family as well as he wants to. He is striving to beat the system, as evidenced by the fact that he asks the question of why the whites are always driving and the blacks lifting trash in his job as a garbage collector, but when he "wins" and is made a driver he is still held back, one might assume, by the fact that he has never learned to drive. He is still paying for furniture on credit that is long since paid for because the "devil" (white man, symbolized in almost a clan-like appearance) expects him to do so. He is downtrodden and turns to an affair to have an escape, yet his wife, Rose, stays with him and raises his lover Alberta's baby in the end. There is loyalty there.
Lyons is the "wasted youth" trying to use music as his escape, but having a history of needing money.
Cory, on the other hand, is portrayed as the one with the most hope of breaking the chain. He wants to play football, but his father discourages this as Troy believes that Cory will be destined for failure in what he still views as the white man's sport.
Gabriel is interesting. His head injury gives him a reason for his limitations, yet ultimately he may be the strongest of them all for he possesses acceptance of life and an attitude of one who has not lost faith as Troy has. Consider him in light of the angel Gabriel for a better understanding of how he is portrayed.
The men are struggling to survive and make a way in a world that is still white-dominated. They are prime examples of the emasculation of black men who were powerless under slavery's grasp to help or save their families and who still felt a sense of power for many decades after as they struggles to be "men" for their families (this is part of why Troy insists on the fence - to keep what is his safe inside and to keep the outside world at bay).