Why does Cory attack Troy in Fences?

Quick answer:

Cory attacks Troy to defend his mother.

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Cory attacks Troy because Troy is threatening his mother. This happens shortly after Troy confesses to Rose that he has had an affair and is going to be a father. Rose is shocked and angry and accuses Troy of not living up to his responsibilities. This makes Troy angry, and he roughly grabs his wife, who cries out in pain.

Cory's actions are purely a reflex; he is as surprised at himself as Troy is. He doesn't know that Troy has cheated on his mother. But seeing Troy grab Rose and hearing her say that Troy was hurting her sets him off, and he hits Troy.

Cory has struggled with his father for years. Cory knows that his father is jealous of his success at football. Troy is bitter about his treatment in baseball. He believes that he was never given a chance because he was Black, and as a result, he projects that bitterness onto Cory's football experience. Troy thinks that because he could not succeed, Cory can't either. So, in that moment when Troy grabs Rose, Cory recognizes for the first time that Troy could be dangerous. When he hits him, he is more than defending his mother: he is taking a stand.

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