Wilson's Metaphoric Use of Baseball
The most prevalent image in August Wilson's Fences is baseball. It is the sport that defines Troy Maxson's life and provides the measure of his success. Indeed, Wilson has constructed the play into nine scenes—or innings—to emphasize the connection. According to Christine Birdwell in Aethlon, the innings correspond to the seasons of Troy's life. In some innings, Troy is the hero who wins for his team, his family. These are the innings defined by Troy's success: his early success as a great hitter for the Negro Leagues, his protest at work that wins him a promotion to driver, and his noble, responsible efforts to provide for his family. But some innings are losses for Troy (and his team): his misunderstandings and painful confrontations with his two sons, his institutionalizing of his brother Gabriel, his broken relationships with Rose and Bono, and the death of Alberta. In the ninth inmng, when Troy is dead, his family gathers in the yard to remember Troy's wins and losses.
Birdwell noted that Wilson does not provide much information about the black baseball leagues in his play. The role baseball plays in framing Troy's strengths and weaknesses is more important than the history of the game itself. Instead the emphasis is on characterization. The audience learns that Troy was a good hitter and that his home run average far exceeded those of many white players. Nevertheless, the Negro League was not a source of viable income for its players; Troy could not have bought his home without the additional money from Gabriel's disability checks. In one of his complaints about the color line in baseball, Troy observes that he "saw Josh Gibson's daughter yesterday. She was walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet." He then compares Gibson's child to the child of a white major league player, and declares "I bet you Selkirk's daughter ain't walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet." The reference is clear: Negro League players cannot make enough money to support their families. The injustice rankles Troy whose bitterness at the slight baseball has shown him is evident throughout the play.
Besides his thirty-year friendship with Bono, the fifteen years that he spent in prison provided Troy with another benefit. It demonstrated to him that he had a talent, one that set him apart from other men, one that proved his worth. But, as Birdwell noted, baseball also proved a disappointment. For Troy, "the triumphs of the past have become bitter betrayals, and baseball now means lost dreams. Baseball had defined Troy, had given him meaning and status; now it has left him with nothing tangible.''
Troy is so angry over his own lost opportunities that, by 1957, he cannot take pleasure in the fact that black men are finally able to play major league ball. Integration means nothing to him because it came too late to benefit his life. He complains that "if you could play ball then they ought to have let you play." Ability and not color should determine who plays baseball, but Troy recognizes that justice has been missing for black men. When he tries to explain his distrust of the white sport establishment to Cory, Troy observes that "the colored guy got to be twice as good [as the white player] before he get on the team." He also notes that although the leagues are now integrated, the black players sit on the bench and are not used. Cory has no personal experience that corresponds to his father's. He has been playing football in high school and recruiters want him to play in college; he fails to see any lack of opportunity. Each man feels the other is blind to the truth, but both are centered in their own experience.
In a real sense, Troy has become blind to the changes of the past ten years, and it is this ignorance that provokes him to deny Cory's chance at succeeding. Too often, fathers use sons to achieve the success they feel they have been denied. But Troy has no desire to live vicariously through his son. Finally, in the eighth inning/scene, their...
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