What is the significance of Troy's song Old Blue? Is it in any way about the failure of human love?
Troy sings the song early in Act II, and then Cory and Raynell join in and echo it at the end. In this way, it is an individual and group song, and it is a primary source that, when shared, becomes a secondary one.
In Act II, Troy sings, "Blue was mighty true / Blue was a good old dog." And then, "Old Blue died and I dig his grave...Every night when I hear old Blue bark / I know Blue treed a possum in Noah's Ark." Cory and Raynell sing it too: "Go on Blue, you good dog you."
Blue is not only a dog, but it is "the blues," the Negro lyrical songs of mourning. The blues blend comedy and tragedy like no other art from. The lyrics look funny on paper (they're about a dog in heaven), but when sung, they elicit a catharsis.
The blues descended from slavery and old Negro spirituals, but then they took on a more secular identity in the 20th Century. They were a key to the past and a link to the future. Muddy Waters says "The Blues had a baby and named it Rock and Roll," so they are the basis for all modern American popular music.
Richard Wright says, “Blues, spirituals, and folk tales recounted from mouth to mouth . . . all these formed the channels through which the racial wisdom flowed.”
Ralph Ellison says, "The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism."
These songs are Troy's and Cory's and Raynell's way of responding to a world that has rejected them. Troy could be victim of tragedy (like a Greek tragic hero) and kill himself, or he could have a victory over his suffering and sing the blues. The song gives him a way of both coming to terms with and sharing his grief with others. By singing about Old Blue (suffering), Troy is keeping the dog (and his suffering) alive.
The significance of Troy Maxson’s singing about a dog named “Blue,” or “Old Blue,” lies both in the African American origins of the musical genre known as the blues as well as Troy’s nostalgia for a past in which he stood tall despite the barriers of segregation. The song recurs throughout August Wilson’s play and, in the end, after Troy has passed away and his family gathers for his funeral, is adopted by the children he left behind.
Whether Troy actually had a dog in his earlier days, whose death he continues to mourn, is immaterial. What matters is the role which a loyal, beloved pet could play in the memories of an aging African American whose gift for a profitable endeavor, baseball, was thwarted by the realities of the color of his skin and the times in which he lived. Troy suffered the indignities of the black man struggling in a white man’s world. When the mood strikes, he is prone to recall that old song that dates back many decades, specifically, to the late 19th century.
“Old Blue” has been recorded numerous times over the years by various singers and folk groups. Its use by Wilson in Fences is significant in that it evokes fond, if melancholy, memories of the past. The past is what Troy clings to as he lives out his days not in the glory of the successful athlete he could have been, but in the drudgery of the garbage man: the role society has offered him instead. “Old Blue” is not about the failure of human love, but about nostalgia for a simpler time and for the loyalty of some beloved companion.