Fences Summary

Fences is a play by August Wilson in which frustrated protagonist Troy alienates his family through a series of tragic decisions.

  • Troy moved up north in his youth and struggled to build a new life for himself. After a series of trials, he became a baseball player in the "Negro Leagues."

  • Troy is now in his fifties and unhappily works as a garbage collector. He alienates his family by cheating on his wife, kicking out his son Cory, and institutionalizing his mentally ill brother, Gabriel.

  • At Troy's funeral, Gabriel dances so that Troy can go to heaven, forgiving Troy for his mistakes.


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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The play opens in 1957, on a Friday night. Troy and Bono are two Black garbage collectors discussing the action Troy has recently taken at work against their boss, Mr. Rand. He has approached the union to ask why Black men cannot drive garbage trucks.

Troy is married to Rose, and Bono to Lucille, but Bono has an interest in another woman, Alberta. He accuses Troy of being interested in her, too, but Troy says he was only being polite.

Rose emerges from the house, and the group discusses various issues, from how Troy and Rose first met to the question of whether to shop at the cheaper A&P or the more expensive independent store. Troy feels their son, Cory, should stick to his safe job at the A&P, whereas Rose is pleased that he has been offered a college football scholarship and feels he should take it. Troy believes Cory will be passed over in favor of white boys. When Troy's son Lyons, from his first marriage, appears and asks to borrow money, Troy tells him he is lazy and should get a job, but Lyons is a musician and does not want to do a job like Troy's.

The following day, Troy is criticizing Rose for her lottery habit when Troy's brother, Gabriel, arrives. Troy is supposed to be building a fence but has not gotten very far with it. Gabriel was wounded in World War II and now has a metal plate in his head, carries a trumpet everywhere, and believes himself to be the Angel Gabriel. He has recently moved out of Troy's house and is afraid that Troy is angry at him because of this, although Troy says otherwise. Rose feels Gabriel would do well in a hospital, but Troy says it is imperative that Gabriel remain "free." He then leaves, saying he is going to Taylor’s to watch the game.

When he returns, Cory is present, and the pair begin work on the fence. Cory asks why the family does not own a television, and Troy says the cost of a television would be the cost of repairing the roof. Troy was once a baseball player but felt he was passed over because he was Black. He is sure Cory will be treated the same way in football. Cory is upset and asks why his father has never liked him, to which Troy retorts that nobody ever said he had to like his son. He only has to provide care, which he has done. He tells his son that Cory must get his job back at the A&P and that he will not sign the college recruiter's form. He tells Cory this is his first "strike." Rose criticizes Troy, saying that there is no reason Cory should not succeed in football. The world is changing around Troy, and Troy refuses to see it.

Two weeks later, Cory escapes the house with his football gear first thing in the morning without doing his chores. Troy and Bono return to tell Rose that Troy's petition has been successful: he will now be a truck driver. Lyons arrives to return his borrowed ten dollars and asks about Cory; Troy explains that he will not sign the recruiter's form, as he has checked with the A&P and found that Cory is still not working there. He says that his own life was one of struggle, and others must expect to work, too. Lyons suggests that his father come and watch him play music, but Troy refuses. Then, Cory returns in a fury: Troy has gone to his football coach and told him that Cory can no longer play football at all.

The following morning, Troy is called to the jail to bail out Gabriel. He and Bono halfheartedly work on the fence again. Bono suggests that while some people build fences to keep people out, Rose wants this fence built to keep in all the people she loves. He also gently tells Troy not to be stupid and privilege Alberta, with whom he is having an affair, over Rose. Troy becomes angry, saying that the affair is Alberta's fault, and tells Bono to look to his own marriage—Bono’s wife, Lucille, has been asking for a refrigerator for some time. Bono says he will buy the refrigerator when Troy finishes his fence.

After Jim leaves, Troy tells Rose that he is going to be "a daddy." Rose is shocked that Troy would have a child with another woman now, after eighteen years of marriage. Gabriel arrives in the middle of this conversation, and Rose tries to be gentle with him but is reeling from Troy's revelation. When Troy says that he cannot give up Alberta, because she makes him laugh and makes him happy, Rose declares that she herself has put all her hopes in Troy over the year and that he should have turned to her. During the argument, Troy grabs Rose's arm hard, and Cory punches him. This is his second "strike."

Six months after this, Alberta is in the hospital about to give birth, and Gabriel has been committed to an institution. The papers, Rose says, report that Troy had signed papers to this effect. Troy is horrified: he cannot read and thought he had signed a release form. During this conversation, the hospital calls to say that Alberta has died having a baby girl.

When Troy brings the baby home, he sits on the step for a while with her and admits to the baby that he is scared. Then he asks Rose to look after the baby. Rose says that she will because the baby is innocent, but she says that Troy must leave; he is now "a womanless man."

Several months after this, Troy arrives, drunk, just as Rose is leaving for church with a cake and the baby. Troy sings himself a song about a dog called Blue. Bono arrives while he is doing so; he says that it has been difficult to see Bono since he was promoted. Troy says that he plans to retire soon, as being a truck driver is a lonely task, unlike working on the back of the truck. Bono will not stop to drink with him. Troy notes that their wives have both gotten what they wanted: Lucille her refrigerator, and Rose her fence. When Cory returns home, Troy is sitting right in the middle of the steps and takes offense when Cory does not say "excuse me" when trying to pass. They argue, leading to a physical altercation, at the end of which Troy threatens his son with a baseball bat and tells him to get out of his house, which he has paid for. He says that he will put Cory's things on the outside of the fence.

When the baby girl, Raynell, is seven, Troy dies, and the family reunites for his funeral. Lyons has been in prison for cashing other people's checks, and Cory has been in the Marines. Cory says he will not go to the funeral, because he wants to say no to his father once in his life, but Rose says that his father always tried to do right by him, even if he did not always go about it the right way. Raynell asks Cory whether he knows Blue, the dog of Troy's song, and the pair sing the song together. Just before it is time for the funeral to start, Gabriel appears, saying it is time to open the gates of Heaven for Troy at last. However, when he tries to blow his trumpet, it makes no sound, and Gabriel begins to make an "atavistic" sound of disbelief and pain. Nevertheless, the gates of Heaven open for Troy.

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