Student Question

Why was Troy imprisoned in Fences?

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Troy was imprisoned in Fences for accidentally killing a man during a robbery. He was trying to protect himself after being shot, which led to the man's death. This experience significantly shaped his life, introducing him to baseball and his friend Bono, but also reinforcing emotional barriers and impacting his ability to connect with others after his release.

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Troy tells both the audience and Lyons and Bono about his past in Act I scene 4, which includes the story of how he came to be put in prison due to the accidental murder of somebody he was trying to rob when he was going through a very difficult stage of his life. Note how he tells his history in his own words:

Went to rob this fellow... pulled out my knife... and he pulled out a gun. Shot me in the chest. I felt just like somebody had taken a hot branding iron and laid it on me. When he shot me I jumped at him with my knife. They told me I killed him and they put me in the penitentiary and locked me up for fifteen years. That's where I met Bono.

The murder Troy committed was therefore "accidental" because in a sense he was trying to protect himself from being shot again, and he was already wounded. His time in prison is significant as it led to Troy being introduced to baseball and also resulted in his friendship with Bono, which is very significant for Troy and for the play. Troy's account of his past suggests that he turned to crime out of poverty, as he suggests he turned to crime in order to be able to feed his wife and son. Troy's crime therefore explores the position of blacks in American society at the time, and how their limited options produced massive dilemmas as to how they were going to provide for themselves and their families.

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Discuss Troy's experience of being in prison in Fences.

Troy's background and experience in prison helps formulate a great deal of his adult identity.  On one hand, prison becomes the natural extension of his own relationship with his father.  The abuse, neglect, and lack of psychological health in that relationship made Troy's entrance into bad decision making a reality, something that culminated with his arrest for murder and robbery.  Troy's time in prison ended up yielding two distinct realities that play a large role in his life after it.  The first is that Troy continues his talent on the baseball field.  Prison allows Troy, in a sense, to see a life outside of prison, and outside of "fences" in the skill and talent he shows in baseball.  Interestingly enough, another experience from prison is that Troy learns to live in a sort of psychological set of "fences."  Prison cuts Troy off from human connection and from human interaction, something that ends up haunting him greatly in the course of the drama.  Once Troy leaves prison, he is too old to play baseball and the newly integrated leagues makes competition so difficult that Troy is closed out of his dream.  Troy recognizes his skin color and the entire social configuration against him.  At the same time, Troy is unable to fully interact with people on an emotional level, something that prison only enhanced.  Coupled with his internal "fences" caused from prison, and the reality that awaits him after prison, one that is socially driven by "fences," Troy's prison experience casts a large shadow on him and his time after it.

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