What does Gabriel symbolize in Fences?

Quick answer:

Gabriel represents innocence, vulnerability, and spirituality.

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In Fences, Gabriel represents values that contrast to those embodied in his brother, Troy. The primary elements he represents are innocence, vulnerability, and spirituality.

Throughout the play, Troy wrestles with his conscience as he ponders whether his brother should continue to board with Miss Pearl or go to live in an institution. Ultimately, Troy opts to turn over his care to the impersonal institution. Through this ongoing plot line, Gabriel also represents the breaking of kinship bonds.

Although Gabriel has been to war and endured many hardships, his injury has rendered him unable to function independently, thus returning to him to a state of innocence. Playwright August Wilson suggests that there is a childlike quality to this innocence, which renders him wide open to further injuries that are inflicted on humans in daily life. Furthermore, Gabriel’s detachment from many mundane concerns connects him with a different plane of existence.

Not incidentally, he bears the name of the archangel who was a messenger. Gabriel’s symbolism of life’s spiritual dimensions is furthered by his concern, or even obsession, with salvation and heaven and bringing notice of this concern to mortals on earth. He serves as an alter ego to Troy, who represents the weight of earthly concerns and desires such as money and sex.

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