'Fences, the centerpiece of August Wilson's epic ten-play cycle, is a moving tale of one man's struggle to create a home and family in a world that seems bent on destroying his dreams. Menson-Furr displays her considerable talents as an award-winning teacher, explaining the play with a straight-forward facility that should connect with students of all levels. This is an excellent introduction to one of the most important American plays of the late 20th century, serving also as an excellent introduction to August Wilson, one of the most important American playwrights of the last fifty years.
August Wilson was named Frederick August Kittel when he was born to a German father and an African American mother in 1945. Only two decades remain, the first years of the century and the 1990's. Fences is his play about blacks in the 1950's. Beginning in 1957, between the Korean and Vietnam wars, Fences ends in 1965, but the themes of the play directly place its consciousness in a pre-civil-rights-movement, pre-Vietnam-war-era psyche. Fences takes place in a still latent time. Like the popular Sam Cooke song of the day proclaims, "A Change is Gonna Come," but not quite yet (Nadel, pp 56-299).
In Fences as in Wilson's other plays, a tragic character helps pave the way for other blacks to have opportunities under conditions they were never free to experience, but never reap from their own sacrifice and talents themselves. This is Troy Maxson's situation. Troy's last name, "Maxson," is a compressed reference to the Mason-Dixon line, considered as the imaginary line originally conceived of in 1820 to define the separation between the slave states and the free states. Maxson represents an amalgamation of Troy's history in the south and present life in the north that are inextricably linked (Brustein, Robert, ...