What is the symbolism of fences in Fences?

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In Fences, the fence is symbolic of emotional boundaries. While Rose sees the fence as an expression of domestic love, Troy sees it as another kind of constraint to his freedom.

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The fence in the play has many possible symbolic meanings. For one thing, the fence is a project Troy's wife, Rose, has wanted finished for a long time; Troy's inability to complete the fence or to work on it in any sustained way is emblematic of his own lack of involvement with his wife, whom he is cheating on, and his oppositional relationship with his sons.

The fence also symbolizes the boundary between family and the outside world. Troy, because of his job as a garbage man, lives much of his life beyond this boundary. For Rose, the fence is a way of keeping the people she loves close to her and of keeping out those who would threaten her family. For her, the fence—if Troy could finish it—would be a symbol of the permanence of her love for Troy and her family.

Troy, however, strains against these boundaries. He is bitter over how his life has been constrained by his skin color, another kind of boundary he is unable to cross. His affair with Alberta and his undermining of his son Cory's football career can be seen in relation to those constraints. In this sense, the unfinished fence is representative of his inability to commit to his wife; because of his bitterness, he is unable to build anything solid for himself or his family.

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What does death symbolize in Fences?

Early in the play, Troy tells a story about defeating death and says,

Death ain't nothing but a fastball on the outside corner.

Troy tries to diminish death, the symbol of life's limits, as a way to assert his power and courage. Troy has lived a circumscribed life, hemmed in and threatened by institutional racism, and his answer has been to be defiant. He envisions death as a person, an antagonist he can fight, both by using his superior physical strength and his trickster qualities of evasion.

Troy describes death as a man in

a white robe with a hood on it. He throwed on that robe and went off to look for his sickle. Say, "I'll be back."

By picturing death as a mortal man and Ku Klux Klansman in his hooded white robe, Troy is able to reduce the abstract but very real limitations on his life to something concrete he can wrestle with and defeat. This fight with a personified death energizes Troy, who has been abused, damaged, and beaten down.

Physical death for Troy defeats the personified death that is out to get him in life. The play ends with the thought that Troy achieves peace in death, entering into the pearly gates of heaven, thus winning out over what death has tried to do to him.

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