August Wilson ranks as one of the most significant voices in contemporary American theater. His plays, which reveal a remarkable talent to particularize the African American experience, simultaneously create a universal appeal. The centerpiece of his prolific writing career is a ten-play cycle in which he chronicles the lives of African Americans living in different decades of the twentieth century. Wilson's plays reflect his rhetorical aims to use art to change the relationship between blacks and society and to make clear that the culture of black America “exists and that it is capable of offering sustenance.”
Fences, the second contribution to his ten-play cycle, earned Wilson a Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1987, as well as other awards. This two-act drama, conventionally structured, focuses on the lives of the Troy Maxson family, endeavoring to survive in a northern urban setting that is inhospitable and impoverishing. Not unlike the southern environment from which they came, this new setting is exploitive and is poised to wreak havoc on their aspirations and identities. The playwright's tragic sense about the influence of environment on the human spirit is most evident in the characterization of the protagonist, Troy, who falls from grace in the eyes of his wife, sons, and best friend. However, Troy's characterization is developed sympathetically to advance the play's concern regarding the interrelationship of responsibility, family, and personal fulfillment (Menson, Ladrica, 2008, pp. 31-34).
A Brief Overview
Troy Maxson, a garbage collector who is fifty-three years old at the outset of the play. He is a large man with powerful hands, a forceful personality, and a lust for life. After fighting with his father and leaving home at the age of fourteen, he became a thief to survive. He became an excellent baseball player while serving a fifteen-year sentence for murder. Embittered because racist practices prevented him from playing major league baseball, he later insists that his son Cory abandon his dream of playing football and learn a trade. Troy loves his wife, maintains a cool distance from his children, and actively protests discrimination at his workplace. He entertains and inspires his friend Jim Bono with his combination of jovial vulgarity and wisdom, and he seeks to rediscover lost passion with a mistress, Alberta. Unapologetic after fathering a child with her, he becomes isolated from his family in the years preceding his death in 1965.
Detailed Character Analysis
Troy Maxson, the protagonist of August Wilson's Fences, is the son of a frustrated sharecropper whose harshness drove off his wives and Troy. Troy has made his way north to a world where African Americans live in shacks and are unable to find work. Troy takes to stealing, kills a man, and is sent to prison, where he learns how to play baseball, which he loves and at which he excels. Segregation confines Troy, after prison, to the Negro Leagues. He is angry at the racism that frustrates his attempt at achieving the American Dream in the most American of sports, but he remains resilient. Fences celebrate ...