The Play

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The central action of Fences unfolds in the space of a few months in the late 1950’s; it is 1957 when the play begins. The last scene takes place in 1965, on the day of the funeral of the protagonist, Troy Maxson. On that day, the other characters in the play come to terms with the flawed human being who has been the most powerful force in their lives. Their effort to arrive at a just understanding of this man duplicates the effort in which the play involves its audience. Fences offers a sympathetic but unsentimental portrait of its unforgettable central character.

In 1957, Troy Maxson is fifty-three years old. He has been married for eighteen years to Rose, whose devotion to him has not necessarily blinded her to the more difficult traits of his character. Their son, Cory, is a high school senior, and his accomplishments on the football field have led to his being sought by a recruiter from a college in North Carolina. Troy also has a thirty-four-year-old son, Lyons, by a previous marriage. Lyons’s visits to his father are generally motivated by a desire to borrow money.

Troy also has a brother, Gabe, who as a result of a war injury carries a metal plate in his head; in his damaged mind, he carries the conviction that he is the Archangel Gabriel. Troy feels guilty that money paid to Gabe for his disability has made it possible for Troy to buy the house in which he now lives. Troy has provided Gabe with a roof over his head, but Gabe has recently moved out to Miss Pearl’s rooming house, desiring increased independence.

Troy’s past emerges in the course of the play. At the age of fourteen, after a showdown with a brutal father, Troy set out on his own, hitching his way north to Pittsburgh. With no job and no place to live, he stole to survive. After the birth of Lyons, it seemed he had to steal even more. After killing a man in the course of a robbery, Troy was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, where he developed a gift for baseball. By the time Troy was released from prison, his wife had gone, taking Lyons with her. Troy married Rose but continued to dream of playing baseball in the major leagues. He was born too soon, however, for that dream to be possible: By the time Jackie Robinson was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Troy was in his mid-forties.

Troy now works for the sanitation department, and he has dared to question the practice of assigning the responsibility of driving the trucks to white workers, while Black men do the lifting. His friend Bono listens patiently to Troy’s complaints, but Troy now has something else on his mind. Troy has been giving his attention to Alberta, who works at Taylor’s, a local hangout. He claims there is no harm in his conduct. Troy used to run around with women, but that was before he married Rose.

Troy is skeptical about his son’s football ambitions. Troy’s experiences with baseball have taught him that young Black men have no future in major-league sports. In addition, Cory’s obsession with football is leading him to forget his chores, including helping Troy build the fence Rose has asked for, and to neglect his job at the A&P. In fact, Troy has obstinately refused to talk seriously about signing the paper that would allow Cory to accept the football scholarship he has been offered. He is angry that Cory has cut back on his hours at the A&P;...

(This entire section contains 1256 words.)

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he is now, Troy understands, working only on weekends in order to give himself time for football. Troy is so hard in his refusals that Cory asks Troy why he has never liked him. Troy asserts that liking is not the issue. Cory is his son, and he looks after his son because that is a man’s responsibility.

Two weeks later, Troy is promoted to driver. Bono notices that he has stopped by Taylor’s on his way home to give the good news to Alberta. Troy has no driver’s license, but he is not worried. He has other matters on his mind. He has learned that Cory has been lying to him; Cory has not been working at the A&P at all. As a result, Troy has ordered the coach to dismiss Cory from the football team, thus killing Cory’s dream of college and all its promises. Cory accuses Troy of being motivated by fear; he is afraid that his son will turn out to be better than he is. That, says Troy, is “strike one.”

The following day, after bailing out his brother Gabe, whose habit of breaking into song when the spirit moves him has led to an arrest for disturbing the peace, Troy tells Rose that Alberta is carrying his baby. He tries to explain that his relationship with Alberta does not imply any rejection of Rose, to whom he has otherwise been faithful for eighteen years. With Alberta, he can momentarily escape the pains, pressures, and disappointments of his life. Rose reminds him that she has shared those pains and has not looked for her own escape. As the anger of the moment grows, Troy grabs Rose’s arm. When Cory comes to his mother’s defense, Troy tells him that that is “strike two.”

Alberta dies giving birth to Troy’s daughter. Troy begs Rose to take care of the child, who is, after all, innocent. Rose agrees. The child will have a mother. However, Rose tells Troy that he will be a womanless man from then on.

At work, Troy is doing well. He has been promoted; he is now picking up white people’s garbage. Gabe, however, is now in an institution. Troy carries the guilt of having signed the commitment papers, an act all the more troubling because it means that some of the pension money that is rightfully Gabe's now comes directly to Troy. Cory, in the wake of Troy’s infidelity, now treats his father with open disrespect, telling Troy he no longer counts. This provokes a struggle in which Troy manages to prevail. There is no longer any hope of reconciliation between the two men, and Cory leaves home.

He returns on the day of Troy’s funeral in 1965. Troy’s daughter Raynell, now seven, meets her brother for the first time. Lyons is there, too, released for the occasion from the workhouse, where he is serving time for cashing other people’s checks. Cory, now a corporal in the Marines, tells his mother that he will not attend the funeral. Rose tells Cory that he will not become a man by disrespecting his father. Troy had many faults, she says, but he always meant to do good more than he meant to do harm. Cory does not directly answer what his mother has said, but he tells Raynell to get ready so they will not be late for the funeral.

Gabe has come with his trumpet to blow open the gates of heaven for his brother’s arrival. The trumpet has no mouthpiece, and when he raises it to his lips, no sound comes out. On the verge of an awful realization, Gabe instead begins a dance and something like a song. As he finishes his dance, he is satisfied that the gates of heaven stand open for Troy.

The Play

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Fences depicts the quiet collapse of an ordinary African American family in the late 1950’s. The breakdown of Troy Maxson’s family centers on the struggle between father and son over conflicting visions of Black identity, aspirations, and values. The first act presents Troy as a dutiful provider for his wife, Rose, and his son, Cory; he has steady employment as a sanitation worker. Troy’s past, however, has left him a scarred man—a man of boundless energy and boisterous bitterness. Troy’s childhood was soured by a stern and overbearing father. Troy experienced racism as an African American athlete in the late 1950’s: Although he had proven he had the ability to play professional baseball, he was prevented by his color from playing in the major leagues. Frustrated throughout his young life, Troy was driven to crime and ended up in jail. There is no aspect of his life in which he does not feel confined—fenced in. Because Troy is unable to rid himself of the pain and poverty of his past, his adult life is constricted. Throughout the play, there is a silent visual reminder of this constriction—an unfinished fence that Troy has been building around his backyard.

The tension between Troy and his younger son, Cory, in the first act is one among several important elements of the play. Troy is both bitterly jealous and protective of Cory, who is being recruited by a local college for a football scholarship. Troy refuses to let Cory accept the scholarship because he is afraid that Cory will come to know the hurt his father has experienced in the world of sports. Equally important, Troy is overwhelmed with envy: What if Cory could, in fact, overcome the barriers of race and become a professional athlete? Constricted by these feelings, Troy invites the wrath of Cory, who eventually joins the Marines as a way to redress the wrongs which typify the fenced-in feeling Cory experiences with his father. Troy remains unyielding.

Act 2, scene 1, turns on a conflict between Troy and his wife, Rose. Troy tells Rose about his affair with a younger woman, who is about to give birth to his child. Troy’s attempt to comfort Rose by explaining that the other woman allows him “to be a part of myself that I ain’t never been” is futile. Rose rejects Troy’s explanation: “Ain’t nothing you can say, Troy. Ain’t no way of explaining that.” Rose is deeply hurt, and the chance for any future happiness for the couple is permanently impaired. Troy’s mistress dies after giving birth to Troy’s baby. In an act of courage, Rose assumes the responsibility of rearing Troy’s baby, an act which might well symbolize the pliancy of the African American mother who often must hold the African American family together. The husband-wife conflict in Fences contrasts the wounded male egos of men like Troy with the courageous and pragmatic strength of women like Rose.

Troy’s son Lyons (by a former wife) fares no better with Troy than does his half-brother Cory. The fact that Troy himself was an abused son makes him an uncaring father to Lyons, who, like Troy, ends up in jail. Even when Troy appears to be at his best, there is an air of ambivalence about him. While Troy’s attitude toward his brother, Gabriel, a brain-damaged World War II veteran who lives under the illusion that he is the angel Gabriel, is generally one of caring and concern, Troy exploits him nevertheless. When Gabriel receives compensation from the government for his disability, Troy uses the money to buy a house. Gabriel cannot stay with Troy and his family because of Troy’s compelling need for self-justification. Troy’s purest, or least ambivalent, feelings are for Bono, a longtime drinking friend and colleague; yet, in their sober moments together, a bitter wariness exists between them.

Troy Maxson’s life begins to turn completely sour and grim when he and Cory have a serious physical altercation. At the conclusion of Act 2, scene 1, Cory comes to the defense of his mother as Rose struggles to get away from Troy and the news of his extramarital affair. Cory approaches Troy from behind and grabs him; Cory and Troy fight and Troy is beaten. The scene ends as Troy warns Cory: “All right. That’s strike two. You stay away from around me, boy. Don’t you strike out. You living with a full count. Don’t you strike out.” Troy and Cory’s first physical altercation leads to their final confrontation in Act 2, scene 4. Cory returns home for his belongings, and Troy challenges him, backing Cory against a tree. Cory picks up a bat to defend himself, but he does not hit his father because Rose rushes out into the yard and pleads with him to stop. Troy’s fragile male ego is destroyed, and the scene ends as Troy speaks words that symbolize his feelings of emasculation and utter defeat: “I can’t taste nothing. Hallelujah! I can’t taste nothing no more!”

Act 2, scene 5, brings all Troy Maxson’s innocent victims together as they prepare for the funeral of their rebellious yet responsible father, husband, brother, and provider. Troy died suddenly, the audience is told, while swinging a baseball bat in his backyard. Lyons receives a temporary leave from jail, and Cory gets a furlough to attend their father’s funeral. While Rose, Lyons, Gabriel, and Troy’s daughter Raynell all seem to express a genuine attitude of amiability and fondness for Troy, Cory remains decidedly ambivalent in his feelings toward him. The play ends with Gabriel’s call to Saint Peter to open the gates of heaven and let Troy enter.

Places Discussed

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Maxson home

Maxson home. African American home in an unspecified city, possibly Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Maxsons’ yard, which is an extension of their house, represents Troy Maxson’s ambivalent feelings: his spirit, large like his body, desires the rootedness of home but resists its limitations. The responsibilities of his family bind him even more closely than did the prison in which he has spent fifteen years. The yard keeps Troy close to home, yet is not as confining as the house itself. The unfenced yard also signifies the era of the play, a time when African Americans were soon to loosen the bonds of some legal and social restraints, with the turbulent Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

As Troy’s friend Bono comments, “some people build fences to keep people out . . . and other people build fences to keep people in.” The partially built fence surrounding the Maxsons’ yard represents the conflicts of the play. Rose, Troy’s wife, wants a fence to keep her world safe, to keep the family close, but to Troy, the fence represents confinement, so he has delayed its completion. The bond between Rose and Troy, like the incomplete fence, fails to prevent Troy’s straying with another woman. Troy’s inner fences and the fences that the white world has built around him trap him in his meager-paying job. The literal fence, that Troy and Cory were to have built together, could have strengthened their relationship, but Troy’s procrastination and Cory’s dreams of winning a football scholarship prevent this outcome. However, Troy, too, desires to keep things out; he wants to keep out Death, with whom he had once wrestled and won. Ironically, Troy completes the literal fence after his complete alienation from his wife and son, and his fence finally fails to keep out Death.

Dramatic Devices

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August Wilson introduces his audience to the primary conflict in Fences at the very beginning of the play. All the characters are introduced in Act 1, and their interrelationships are explained; the conflict between father and son is imminent. In Troy’s stubborn effort to prevent his own harsh history from repeating itself with his son Cory, Troy imposes his legacy on Cory’s dreams and aspirations. Heinous and misguided as Troy’s anger is, it does not seem irrational, because Wilson makes the audience understand the facts of Troy’s life. In a gripping speech (act 1, scene 4), Troy takes the audience along every painful mile of his “walking blues.” Fleeing from the rural racism of the South only to encounter the impoverished slums of the North, Troy Maxson epitomizes the African American males of his generation who were psychologically scarred by their social status: They were neither enslaved nor free men.

Act 2, scene 1, further complicates the conflict between Troy and Cory, as Wilson creates conflict among other characters. The turning point of the play occurs when Rose attacks Troy for crossing her boundaries. This crucial moment changes the direction of the action and paves the way for the complications to unwind. The process by which Cory and the others reconcile themselves with Troy—and retrieve the pride he lost—is manifested in the play’s affecting denouement: It can only be accomplished after Troy’s death. Though the conclusion aims to reestablish a stable situation so that the drama may end, the audience is left with feelings of ambivalence. This ambivalence is the hallmark of Wilson’s achievement; he makes the audience understand Troy Maxson’s behavior without ever resorting to sentimentalizing him.

While Wilson’s tableau-like staging could serve any front-porch play, his clever use of the fence is another way in which the play achieves its effect. The fence provides a silent commentary on the action taking place all around it. Almost all August Wilson’s humor, poetry, and social observation somehow center on the fence. The tensions created by the image of the fence heighten the play’s conflict and invite the audience to participate in an emotional identification with the characters, who demand that the audience take sides in their disagreements.

Historical Context

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Professional AthleticsBy 1957, the year in which Fences is set, Black athletes had become an integrated part of professional and college sports, at least on the surface. The all-white teams of the World War II—and previous—years began to include Black people in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first Black to play professional baseball since the color line was drawn in the 1890s. But the change still did not bring the same opportunity and equality as Black people might have hoped. Black leagues began to falter and disappear as more Black people began to support the now-integrated ball teams. Troy Maxson, who had played in the Negro Leagues, found the change to integrated leagues had come too late; he was now too old to play professional ball.

The Negro Leagues had been financial disasters for players; salaries were inadequate to support a family. But, ten years after integration, the major leagues did not prove to be a financial bonanza for Black players either. The huge salaries that were to become the hallmark of professional sports in the 1980s and 1990s simply did not exist in the late 1950s. The picture for college athletics was also different for blacks than for whites. Black players were not always permitted to live in campus housing, and when they traveled to games, Black athletes were sometimes refused accommodations at hotels where the team was staying. Instead, Black players were dropped off at the YMCA or lodged with Black families. Given this knowledge, it is little wonder that Troy is suspicious of the recruiters who want to seduce his son with scholarships and the possibility of a career in professional sports.

EmploymentWhen the flood of immigrants poured into the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, they found opportunity and employment in factories, offices, and small businesses. The white workforce was plentiful and employers took advantage of the availability of the eager new citizens, who came expecting that hard work would make it possible to marry, raise a family, and live the American Dream. But for Black people, who were also moving into large northern cities in huge numbers, the American Dream remained an elusive possibility, just beyond their grasp.

Troy admits that had he not been able to use his brother's disability benefit, he would not have been able to purchase a home, even though he had been working hard for nearly twenty years. With the availability of a largely white workforce, Black people were too often the last hired and the first fired. In addition, many Black workers lacked the training necessary to get ahead. The job of hauling garbage is available to Black people, but even within that job, there is a division of work by race. White employees drive trucks; Black employees load the garbage. Troy cannot read and does not have a driver's license, but he breaks through the color barrier to win a driver's job because he complains that there are no Black drivers. The union, which protects his job when he complains, is the one ally the Black workers have.

HousingBecause of limited job opportunities, most Black people did not earn enough money to own their own homes. But in 1957 the American Dream became a reality for many white families. In the post-war economy, home ownership for whites was booming. The World War II G.I. bill made it possible for returning servicemen to go to college. These better-educated men found successful careers that brought a higher standard of living than the previous generation had known. This resulted in an explosion of new home buildings, the creation of suburbs, and ultimately, the exodus of whites from the inner city. Few Black people could afford the new homes that were going up on development sites all across the country. Instead, many urban Black people lived in the same kind of ghetto in which Wilson himself had been born. The front yard of the Maxson home is a rarity for most Black families who often lived in huge inner-city apartment buildings.

RacismThe 1950s still revealed an America with two races, separated by color and economic barriers. Black and white people attended different schools, lived in different neighborhoods, and received different benefits from their citizenship. Before the advent of forced busing in the 1960s, most Black people attended schools in poorer neighborhoods. Because schools are funded by a complicated system of bonds supported by taxes, Black schools (in neighborhoods that collected lower taxes) received less money and thus had smaller resources with which to pay salaries, maintain buildings, or buy new equipment. The result was that students at predominately Black schools received a sub-standard level of education.

Other areas of inequality included suffrage and justice. Black people were not encouraged to vote; in fact, many areas discouraged Black people from voting by instituting difficult competency exams as qualifiers. White people were not required to pass these exams. Accordingly, Black people had little input into the political decisions that shaped their lives. Black people also suffered unequal treatment under the law. Many could not read the contracts they signed or were too intimidated to protest. In addition, Black people often became the victims of discrimination under criminal statutes. Ignorance of their legal rights meant that Black people often languished in jail. In some cases, Black people were lynched by unruly mobs who were sometimes sanctioned by a law enforcement organization that looked the other way. The civil unrest of the 1960s was a direct result of these injustices.

Literary Style

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ActA major division in a drama. In Greek plays the sections of the drama signified by the appearance of the chorus and were usually divided into five acts. This is the formula for most serious drama from the Greeks to the Romans to Elizabethan playwrights like William Shakespeare. The five acts denote the structure of dramatic action. They are exposition, complication, climax, falling action, and catastrophe. The five act structure was followed until the nineteenth century when Henrik Ibsen (A Doll's House) combined some of the acts. Fences is a two-act play. The exposition and complication are combined in the first act when the audience learns of Troy's affair with another woman and of the conflict between father and son, the role sports plays in each man's life. The climax occurs in the second act when Troy must admit to having fathered a child with his mistress. The climax to the father-son friction also occurs in the second act when the conflict between Troy and Cory escalates, and Cory leaves his father's home for good. The catastrophe also occurs in this act when the players assemble for Troy's funeral and Cory is finally able to deal with his resentment and accept his father's failings.

SettingThe time, place, and culture in which the action of the play takes place is called the setting. The elements of setting may include geographic location, physical or mental environments, prevailing cultural attitudes, or the historical time in which the action takes place. The location for Fences is an urban city in 1957 America. The action occurs over a period of several months and then jumps ahead seven years for the last scene. The action is further reduced to one set, the yard of the Maxson home.

CharacterA person in a dramatic work. The actions of each character are what constitute the story. Character can also include the idea of a particular individual's morality. Characters can range from simple stereotypical figures to more complex multi-faceted ones. Characters may also be defined by personality traits, such as the rogue or the damsel in distress. "Characterization'' is the process of creating a lifelike person from an author's imagination. To accomplish this, the author provides the character with personality traits that help define who he will be and how he will behave in a given situation. For instance, in the beginning of Fences Troy seems to accept the responsibilities he has acquired. He appears content with his marriage and comfortable in providing for his family and caring for Gabriel. As the action progresses, however, it becomes clear that Troy yearns for escape from these responsibilities. He finds this escape with Alberta but at the cost of his marriage.

ConflictThe conflict is the issue(s) to be resolved in the play. It usually occurs between two characters, but it can also occur between a character and society (as it does in Arthur Miller's The Crucible). Conflict serves to create tension in a plot—it is often the motivating force that drives a plot. For instance, in Fences there is a clear conflict between Cory's desire to play footfall and the disappointments that his father felt when his dreams of success in professional sports were never realized. There is also conflict between Troy and his wife when she discovers that he has fathered a child with another woman. And finally, Troy's disappointment in sports represents the conflict between a largely white-dominated organization, professional sports, and a talented Black man who feels he has been cheated and deprived of success. This conflict provides one of the fences that isolate Black athletes from opportunities available to white Americans.

MetaphorA metaphor is an analogy that identifies one object with another and ascribes to the first object the qualities of the second. For example, the fence is a metaphor for the walls that confine Troy and Bono to prison. There are fences (though unseen) between Troy and his family. It is also a metaphor for the white society that confines Black people and restricts their opportunities. In this drama, baseball is also a metaphor for Troy's life. His successes are hits over the fence, but his failures are strike-outs.

PlotThis term refers to the pattern of events. Generally, plots should have a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, but they may also be a series of episodes connected together. Basically, the plot provides the author with the means to explore primary themes. Students are often confused between the two terms, but themes explore ideas, and plots simply relate to what happens in a very obvious manner. Thus the plot of Fences is the story of a Black family divided by the loss and anger of past and present disappointments. But the themes are those of family unity and love and racial intolerance.

Compare and Contrast

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1957: Ku Klux Klansmen accuse Alabama grocery-chain truck driver Willie Edwards, 25, of having made remarks to a white woman and force him at pistol point to jump to his death from the Tyler Goodwin Bridge into the Alabama River. It was Edwards's first day on the truck route.

1985: Philadelphia police try to dislodge members of MOVE, an organization of armed Black people. They firebomb a house from the air on May 13 and the fire spreads to adjacent houses, killing 11 and leaving 200 homeless.

Today: A Black woman, previously on public assistance, organizes a million-woman rally in Philadelphia. This variant on the 1996 million-man march on Washington D.C. draws more than one million Black women in a show of strength and solidarity.

1957: The Motown Corporation is founded in Detroit, Michigan, by entrepreneur Barry Gordy Jr., 30, who invests $700 to start a recording company whose "Motown Sound" will figure large in popular music for more than two decades.

1985: The Color Purple, a film based on Alice Walker's novel, is a top-grossing box office success for star Whoopi Goldberg and director Steven Spielberg.

Today: Rosewood, a film based on actual events that occurred in 1927, examines the massacre that destroyed a small Florida town after a white woman falsely accuses a Black man of sexual assault.

1957: Ghana becomes the first African state south of the Sahara to attain independence.

1985: South Africa declares a state of emergency July 20, giving police and the army almost absolute power in Black townships. The country's policy of apartheid has kept Black people as second-class citizens for decades.

Today: For the first time, South Africa is ruled by the racial majority (Black people) led by Nelson Mandela, who languished in white-run prisons during the last 27 years of apartheid rule.

1957: The first U.S. civil rights bill since Civil War reconstruction days, passed by Congress September 9, establishes a Civil Rights Commission and provides federal safeguards for voting rights. Many Southerners oppose the bill.

1985: The Gramm-Rudman-Holhngs Act signed by President Reagan mandates congressional spending limits in an effort to eliminate the federal deficit.

Today: Welfare reform results in a loss of services, including food stamps, public assistance, and medical care for many of the nation's poorest citizens. The reform is intended by politicians to be a mechanism that will force welfare recipients into the job force. But the change is seen by the many organizations that assist the poor as a misdirected effort that will punish the nation's already disadvantaged children.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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SOURCES Barnes, Clive. "Fiery 'Fences'" in the New York Post, March 27,1987.

Birdwell, Christine. "Death as a Fastball on the Outside Corner. Fences's Troy Maxson and the American Dream'' in Aethlon; The Journal of Sport Literature, Vol. 8, no. l. Fall, 1990, pp. 87-96.

Ching, Mel-Ling. "Wrestling against History" in Theater, Vol. 19, no. 3, Summer-Fall, 1988, pp. 70-71.

DeVries, Hilary. "A Song in Search of Itself" in American Theatre, Vol. 3, no. 10, January, 1987, pp. 22-25.

Elam, Harry J., Jr. "Of Angels and Transcendence; An Analysis of Fences by August Wilson and Roosters by Milcha Sanchez-Scott" in Staging Difference; Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama, edited by Marc Manfort, Peter Lang (New York), 1995, pp. 287-300.

Henderson, Heather. "Building Fences: An Interview with Mary Alice and James Earl Jones" in Theater, Vol. 16, no. 3, Summer-Fall, 1985, pp. 67-70.

Pereira, Kim. "August Wilson" in Reference Guide to American Literature, edited by Jim Kamp, third edition, St. James Press, 1994, pp. 919-21.

Shafer, Yvonne. "Breaking Barriers: August Wilson" in Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama, edited by Marc Manfort, Peter Lang, 1995. pp. 267-85.

Wallach, Allan. "Fenced in by a Lifetime of Resentments" in Newsday, March 27, 1987.

Wilson, Edwin. "Wilson's 'Fences' on Broadway" in the Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1987.

FURTHER READING Chalk, Ocama. Pioneers in Black Sport, Dodd, Mead (New York), 1975. Chalk provides a detailed discussion of the complicated issue of integration in professional sports.

Elam, Harry J. "August Wilson's Women" in May All Your Fences Have Gates, University of Iowa Press, 1994. Elam is a Professor of Drama at Stanford University. This essay is an examination of the role of women in Wilson's dramas.

Elkins, Manlyn August. Wilson: A Casebook, Garland (New York), 1994. This narrow volume is a collection of essays that discuss Wilson's work within the context of historical and cultural influences.

Holway, John. Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues, Dodd, Mead, 1975. This is a scholarly investigation of the Negro Leagues based on player interviews and an examination of sports reportage.

In Their Own Words. Contemporary American Playwrights, Theatre Communications Group, 1988. This essay is the transcript of a March 1987 interview with Wilson in which he discusses several of his plays.

Nadel, Alan. Essays on the Drama of August Wilson, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City), 1994. This is a collection of essays on Wilson's dramatic work. There is also a comprehensive bibliography included.

Paige, Leroy. "Satchel." Maybe I'll Pitch Forever, Doubleday, 1962. Perhaps the best-known player from the Negro baseball leagues, Satchel Paige is considered to be one of the finest players to engage the game of baseball. This book is an autobiographical look at his career in the Negro Leagues.

Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men. Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues, Atheneum (New York), 1983. This book offers an overview of the social issues that led to the end of the great Negro Leagues.

Ruck, Rob. Sandlot Seasons. Sport in Black Pittsburgh, University of Illinois Press (Urbana), 1987. This nonfiction text probes the history of sports in Pittsburgh, the city of Wilson's youth and the model for the urban setting of Fences.

Shannon, Sandra G. "The Ground on Which I Stand'' in May All Your Fences Have Gates, University of Iowa Press, 1994. Shannon is an Associate Professor of English at Howard University. Her essay examines the role of African American women in Wilson's dramas.


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Awkward, Michael. “‘The Crookeds with the Straights’: Fences, Race, and the Politics of Adaptation.” In May All Your Fences Have Gates, edited by Alan Nadel. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1994. Discusses what happens when a play such as Fences becomes adapted into film. Includes Wilson’s suggestions concerning directorial qualifications and claim of ownership over language production and representation of blackness.

Berkowitz, Gerald M. “August Wilson.” In American Drama of the Twentieth Century. London: Longman, 1992. Troy’s tragedy is that, although he represents the first generation of black Americans to progress into the middle class through pride and determination, his instinct is to preserve and consolidate what he has.

Birdwell, Christine. “Death as a Fastball on the Outside Corner: Fences’ Troy Maxson and the American Dream.” Aethlon 8 (Fall, 1990): 16-25.

Brown, Chip. “The Light in August.” Esquire 111 (April, 1989): 116. Wilson emphasizes black life on its own terms, not in confrontation with the white system. Parts of Fences may be inspired by Wilson’s uneasy relationship with his stepfather.

Fishman, Joan. “Developing His Song: August Wilson’s Fences.” In August Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.

Freedman, Samuel G. “A Voice from the Streets.” The New York Times Magazine 136 (March 15, 1987): 36. Fences reflects Wilson’s concern with legacy.

Gordon, Joanne. “Wilson and Fugard: Politics and Art.” In August Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994. Seeks to interpret Fences by emphasizing its universal qualities as well as concentrating on the political significance of the piece in terms of the overt political philosophy of white South African artist Athol Fugard.

Harrison, Paul Carter. “August Wilson’s Blues Poetics.” In Three Plays, by August Wilson. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991. Unlike Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), Troy has no respect for the limitations imposed on him by a hostile world. Troy’s declarations of patriarchal au-thority resonate in the hearts and minds of most African Americans.

Henderson, Heather. “Building Fences: An Interview with Mary Alice and James Earl Jones.” Theater 16 (Summer/Fall, 1985): 67-70. Mary Alice and James Earl Jones performed the roles, respectively, of Rose and Troy Maxson when Fences opened at the Yale Repertory Theater. In this interview, they discuss the development of their characters, both as directed by Lloyd Richards and as guided by their own spontaneity.

Kester, Gunilla Theander. “Approaches to Africa: The Poetics of Memory and the Body in Two August Wilson Plays.” In August Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994. Examines how Fences and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986) highlight the metaphoric relationship between black American history and the black body. Shows how bringing the past into the present often leaves Wilson’s characters trapped in a sense of futility.

Pereira, Kim. August Wilson and the African-American Odyssey. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Reed, Ishmael. “August Wilson: The Dramatist as Bearer of Tradition.” In Writin’ Is Fightin’: Thirty-seven Years of Boxing on Paper. New York: Atheneum, 1988. Fences is informed by Wilson’s belief that a man should have responsibility for his family.

Shannon, Sandra G. The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1995.

Shannon, Sandra G. “The Good Christian’s Come and Gone: The Shifting Role of Christianity in August Wilson Plays.” MELUS 16 (Fall, 1989): 127-142. Discusses how some of Wilson’s characters, such as Levee (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Troy Maxson (Fences), Herald Loomis (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone), and Boy Willie (The Piano Lesson), impose their authority and overshadow other characters. In their abandonment of Christianity and withdrawal from the religion of their ancestors, they construct their own self-serving and liberating dogma.




Critical Essays