How does Troy's past influence his future in Fences?

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Troy's past in Fences significantly impacts his future, shaping his perception of his daily life and his family relationships. Once a skilled baseball player, Troy's missed opportunities and unrealized potential lead to bitterness and resentment. His envy of his son Cory's athletic prospects and his own stagnation as a sanitation worker fuel his domineering and often abusive behavior towards his family. Troy's past failures and disappointments have trapped him, preventing him from progressing and negatively affecting his family's future.

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The short answer is that it affects his future in almost every possible sense, from how he approaches his day to day existence to how he treats his family.

Troy is a man who is constantly depressed by his unrealized potential. Having been a talented baseball player in the Negro League, he certainly had the prowess and skill to play at any level of professional baseball. However, had is the keyword there, and though the Major League has finally adopted a more inclusive approach, Troy is far too past his prime to hope to compete any longer.

As a sanitation worker in his fifties, Troy feels that he has not accomplished nearly as much as he should have in life with the work that he's put in or as much as he would have if the playing field were as even in his time as it is in the present day. This makes him overcompensate by clinging to his role as the family breadwinner, lording his position over the rest of his family to the point of verbal and even physical abuse. He reacts with extreme hostility to any slight, be it real or imagined. This is particularly true if the perceived insult comes from his son Cory, who is a talented athlete in his own right.

In the present day, it seems that Cory has a chance to play professional football in a way that Troy would have never been permitted to. Troy tries to be proud of his son, but it is clear that he is envious of his son's opportunities to the point of resentment. At times, Troy seems to go as far as to actively sabotage Cory's chances to be seen by college recruiters. To Cory, this seems like malevolence of a hateful father, but Troy simply lacks the introspection to see the source of his behavior. He no doubt believes that he is molding Cory into a man, even during outbursts in which it is clear that Troy is afraid of having his manhood figuratively usurped.

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The simplest way to answer this question is to say that Troy doesn't really have much of a future due to his past. For this is a man held back by his past. Forever stuck there, he cannot move on and do something productive with his life.

Troy is still smarting over what he believes was the deliberate thwarting of a promising career in baseball by a racist white society. Over the years he's convinced himself that he had what it took to be a great ball player if only he hadn't been held back by the institutional racism of white society.

While there's more than an element of truth in Troy's estimation of the past, he conveniently overlooks his many character flaws, flaws that have constantly held him back and prevented him from getting ahead in life. Troy's past becomes the ultimate get out of jail card that he can use to absolve himself of responsibility for his life's numerous problems.

Although this might provide a crumb of comfort, it also has the unfortunate effect of preventing Troy from looking ahead and thinking about his future. Worse still, it causes Troy to hobble any kind of future his family may have. If he doesn't have a future, then neither will they.

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Troy has faced a great deal of racism and imposed barriers because of his race, and he thinks that these same barriers will affect his sons, even though there have been some changes since Troy was young. For example, Troy could not play major league baseball because the baseball leagues were not integrated in his day. Though the leagues have since become integrated, starting with Jackie Robinson, Troy believes that his son, Cory, will not be allowed to play football because of his race. Though Rose tries to tell Troy that times have changed, Troy wants both of his sons, Cory and Lyons, to get safe jobs and to stop dreaming (Lyons dreams of being a jazz musician). Troy believes that racism will continue to limit his sons' choices, so they should take whatever jobs they can get.

The past has clearly depressed Troy. He is not able to engage fully with his family and to commit himself to them, in part because he is wary of the future. He believes that death stalks him continuously, and he does things to sabotage his marriage, such as carrying out an affair with Alberta, because he doesn't quite ever believe that things can be good. His past makes him forever wary and nervous about the future.

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It is this question that strikes at the heart of Wilson's protagonist.  Troy is a product of his past.  He wishes not to be, presenting himself as a picture of the present.  Yet, in everything he does, Troy's past profoundly impacts his present and future.  His childhood would be a good starting point in such an analysis.  Troy's own father was abusive.  This impacts his relationship with his children in that he is unable to express any emotions that represent love and nurturing, for these were never really shown to him as a child.  He has no role model for this, and while he does try to be a good father, particularly to Cory, he cannot fully grasp the nuances and painful subtleties of good parenting as his own past did not possess this.  Another example of how his past affects the future would be his time in prison.  He excelled at baseball.  Yet, when he is released, the integration of the Major Leagues costs him a chance at his dream.  This impacts his present and future in two distinct ways.  The first is that he never reconciles his past dream of playing ball with his current reality of working as a garbage man.  The past's hopes never fully mesh with the present reality.  At the same time, when future dreams in the hope of Cory wanting to play football present itself, Troy allows his own past failures and shortcomings to color and temper how he approaches Cory's.  In this, his own past casts a shadow on his own present and Cory's future.  Finally, when looking at Bono's description of the "walking blues," a condition of the past generation that prevented them from being able to embrace happiness and continue wandering for something unknown and undefined, one sees again how the past influences the future.  Jim recognized these signs in his own father and his Troy's father and he warns against this same syndrome to visit Troy.  Yet, with his relationship with Alberta and the constant state of unhappiness that is in Troy's life in the Second Act, one sees how the past state of "walking blues" impacts Troy's present and future.

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In Fences, how do Troy's life experiences effect his relationships with his sons?

Though the primary father-son relationship is between Troy and Cory—a relationship whose contention is borne from their similar dream, as well as Troy's transference of his fears and envy onto Cory—Troy's relationship with Lyons, his eldest child, is one defined by contrast.

The audience meets Lyons when he goes to Troy's house to ask for ten dollars. Lyons is married to a woman with a job in a hospital laundry, but does not have regular work. This gives Troy an opportunity to elevate himself—a hard-working man for the city—above his son. Troy's values and experience align him with many Americans who believe that any job is better than no job, and that one's worth is determined by your ability to make a living. Lyons, however, has rejected the traditional American dream and seeks his own:

But I got to live too. I need something that gonna help me to get out of the bed in the morning. Make me feel like I belong in the world. I don’t bother nobody. I just stay with my music cause that’s the only way I can find to live in the world. Otherwise there ain’t no telling what I might do. Now I don’t come criticizing you and how you live. I just come by to ask you for ten dollars. I don’t wanna hear all that about how I live.

For Lyons, his self-worth is determined by creating something—jazz music—that affirms his existence. Troy thinks that making a living affirms his existence because this is what he has been taught. Unlike Lyons, he does not have the courage to defy convention, and his failure at baseball taught him that it was folly to follow one's dreams. However, Troy, too, has a desire to reaffirm his existence and does this through his affair with Roberta and his acceptance of the child they have together. Troy's job and family give him security, but not the purpose that Lyons has through his art. With Roberta, he suddenly had purpose again, as well as the courage to think that he could try something new:

Then when I saw that gal . . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried . . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second?

His decision brings a new tension between him and Cory. Cory views Troy's infidelity as a slight against his mother and a rejection of the family. Because Troy does not know how to communicate with his sons, and has no desire to learn, the result is physical confrontation.

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In Fences, how do Troy's life experiences effect his relationships with his sons?

Troy grew up in a time of strict segregation, and he was prevented from playing baseball in integrated leagues. As a result, he feels that his son Cory will have no chance of being allowed to play football with white players. Though Rose, Troy's wife, tries to convince him that times have changed, Troy still feels that the world won't let a black man succeed. 

As a result, Troy advises his sons to take the safest route possible. He discourages Cory from playing football. Troy's advice is to follow the safest route possible, such as working in the A&P or working on a garbage truck. He doesn't believe achieving dreams is possible, and he also constantly fears death, showing that he has a pessimistic and dim view of his possibilities in life. He passes along this view to his sons. 

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In Fences, how do Troy's life experiences effect his relationships with his sons?

Troy's relationship with both his sons, Lyons and Cory, are dominated by his own relationship with his father. 

His father was brutal and controlling, and although Troy loves Cory, he knows of no other way to bring up a son. Thus, he repeats the mistakes of the previous generation.

There is some irony in this, and perhaps even some tragedy, as Troy deeply resents his father and never forgives him for the way he was treated, as chattel and then as a rival. 

Much of the irony here stems from the idea that Troy treats his sons as he does, especially Cory, due to a desire to avoid a repetition of history. Troy does not want Cory to grow up to haul garbage like he does. This is why Troy refuses to let Cory play football, despite the fact that this sport would allow Cory to attend college. 

Worried that Cory would sacrifice an opportunity to gain real, work-related skills by pursuing football, Troy also worries that Cory will suffer from the same disappointment he did as a baseball player (kept out of the big leagues because of race). Troy wants Cory to have a better life than he had and this leads him to curb Cory's dreams. 

Cory represents all the possibilities his father never had, but he also represents Troy's unmet dreams.

By squashing Cory's dreams of playing football and going to college, Troy believes he is setting his son up for success. Cory sees things differently, interpreting Troy's behavior as mere jealousy and rivalry. Cory's view is accurate but incomplete.

Troy is so bitter over his own lack of opportunity that he holds his son back from any success he might achieve.

Troy's intentions are to provide opportunities for his sons to become men with an understanding of duty and a chance at success. Regrettably, he enacts these intentions without kindness.

Though Cory comes to a moral maturity in the end, taking responsibility for his own emotional development, Troy dies before doing so, caught up in the battle against death and against himself, which he cannot possibly win.

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