What are the themes of Fences?

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Fences, Wilson is showing how each member of the play is a victim of segregation and institutionalization (fenced off from society and the family) as a result of lack of opportunities due to of race, gender, social class, economics, education, work, real estate, or mental health in the pre-Civil Rights, pre-feminist U.S.

  • Troy, for example, is institutionalized by prison, the union, by alcohol (the bar), and by the uber-male culture at large.
  • Bono, too, was institutionalized by prison and the union, though not so much by the bar and the macho culture.
  • Cory is institutionalized by the military.
  • Gabriel is literally institutionalized at a mental hospital.  Formerly, he was institutionalized by the military.
  • Lyons is institutionalized by the jazz culture, probably the drug culture too.
  • Rose is institutionalized by the church.

The only one who is not institutionalized is Raynell.  She is Troy's legacy and symbolic of the family's hopes and dreams.  Perhaps she will have an opportunity to live free from institutions and become a self-sufficient student, employee, and future matriarch of the family.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that there are several themes to Wilson's play.  One has to be how dreams can be sources of inspiration as well as sources of repression.  We can see this in the interplay between Troy and Cory, father and son.  Troy has become a gutted shell on the part of his own dreams being suppressed by a combination of race and class dimensions.  In conjunction with his own father being unable to properly assist him, Troy has become beaten down by life and has allowed the weight of "dreams deferred" to color his own vision of consciousness.  This bitterness is contrasted with his own son's hopeful vision and pursuit of dreams.  Cory believes in his dreams, and does not take his father's view towards them.  What his father dismisses, Cory finds as a source of animation.  In the end, examining how both characters perceive dreams and whether or not reality is a condemning state of affairs or one where liberation and redemption are possible ends becomes one of the fundamental themes of the play.

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