What is the role of humor in the play Fences?

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Humor in the play Fences is shown alongside tragedy in what is a comprehensive view of the human condition.

The critic Joseph H. Wessling acknowledged that though the central character of the play, Troy Maxson, is indeed tragic, there is so much more to him than that. He is a deeply flawed human being in need of grace and forgiveness, which, Wessling argues, is the essence of true comedy.

Taking his cue from the historian Gerald Heard, Wessling uses the term metacomedy to describe Wilson's play. He defines metacomedy as a comedy that depicts the horrors of everyday life but which ultimately transcends both comedy and tragedy as they are commonly understood.

As Wessling tells us, the comic vision is one that is ultimately resolved in laughter. That being the case, the essence of metacomedy is hope, and Fences provides us with an extended lesson in hope.

If we look at Troy's life as a whole, we will see it as a tragedy. However, if we take a longer view, we can see it as part of an ongoing story, a prelude perhaps to a happier time. If this all rather sounds like wishful thinking, we only have to look at the many challenges that Troy has had to overcome in his life to see that hope often bears fruit.

Troy Maxson may well be a tragic protagonist, but by the end of the play, there is still hope that the next generation will, in the spirit of metacomedy, be able to transcend the tragedy and comedy of everyday life and enjoy the laughter that comes from hope.

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