Analysis of "Fences" by August Wilson

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1646 Words
Date:  2022-03-28


The play "Fences" by August Wilson was written in 1957. The narrative focused on the protagonist Troy Maxson who is an African American man who is married to his wife Rose for eighteen years. Troy and Rose have a son called Cory. Troy also has another son from another relationship called Lyons, who is in his early thirties. Troy was arrested in his early twenties for killing a man, and when he was released, he tries to become a professional baseball player. However, he realizes that he is too old and that he missed his chance. He believes that discrimination against African Americans kept him from playing his favorite sport. Therefore, to understand the themes of the play, it is imperative to identify the symbols, tone, settings, genre as well as the author's writing style.

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"Fences" can be identified as a drama since it was meant to be spoken out by selected performers in front of an audience. Furthermore, since this play focuses on the tribulations of the Maxson family, it can accurately be described as a family drama. The narrative can also be viewed as a coming-of-age story as the ending of the play focuses on Cory coming into manhood.


The tone used in this pay is a heightened, conversational, and universal tone. Wilson uses his unique blend of African-American dialect combined with heightened poetry that makes the general play to sound approachable yet condescending. The author makes his characters seem bigger than themselves, such that they become a representation of all people and not just themselves.

Writing Style

The author uses poetic realism as his writing style in such a way that his writings always seem realistic as they describe everyday people in everyday situations. Almost all the characters in the play are black, and they speak a language that is similar to Pittsburgh, which is the author's native land. Even though the situations that the characters face is typical, the speech employed by the author is atypical to the statement that average people use every day. The expression used in the play is heightened to the point that is not similar to the everyday speech.


The play is set in the yard of the Mason house, which is a two-story brick building that is set off in the back of an alley. The two junky seats that are in the yard illustrate that the Maxson family are not the wealthiest since the chairs need to be repainted. This set is meant to remind the audience that the issue of money is a constant concern for the Maxson family. This is because they are barely getting by on Troy's salary as a garbage collector. The play was also set in Pittsburg as it mentions numerous sites such as the Strip District. This location is essential as it is inhabited by many black people who had migrated north to escape the racial discrimination and poverty in the south. Troy also discusses his inability to get employment as a representation of the hopes that the black people had when they first migrated to Pittsburg. However, his failure to find work also represents the broken hopes of the black people who were disappointed when they did not find work in the factories of Pittsburg.

The period in which this play was written is also essential as it represents a period where some progress had been made in regards to racial discrimination. The most significant development for Troy was the integration of pro sports teams. Even though this progress was positive, it annoyed Troy as it reminded him of the racial discrimination, he had experienced. However, it is also essential to recognize that despite the progress made, racial tensions were still present. The pressures were evidenced by the conflicts that are illustrated in the play since the play was set in the times before the Civil Rights Movement.

Symbolism and Imagery

The play "Fences" is full of baseball imageries which create numerous symbolic meanings. For instance, troy often analyzes life and death in terms of baseball. He explains that death is "a fastball on the outside corner" and claimed that he could always "hit a home run off this kind of pitch back in his heyday" (82). This imagery creates a mental picture of Troy as a skilled player who will forever be remembered. Furthermore, this imagery establishes the symbol of bitterness. Troy feels like he was denied his professional career due to his race. This injustice has turned him into a bitter man who thinks that he was supposed to die as a professional player, but the fact that he was African American denied him the opportunity. Therefore, he uses baseball to taunt death to come for him.

Troy uses baseball terms to explain his affair with another woman. He explains to Rose that when he first married her and had Cory, he felt "safe" (116), but after he saw Alberta, he wanted "to steal second" (118). In her anger, Rose exclaims that "We not talking about baseball! We're talking about you going off to lay in bed with another woman" (121). The scenes also incorporate baseball representations on the stage. For instance, the author describes a baseball bat and a rag ball that is tied to a tree. The rag ball represents Troy's poverty as well as his tattered dreams. The ragged state of the ball can be interpreted as Troy trying to hold on to his glory days even though they are out of reach and unattainable. The baseball bat can also be identified as a crucial climactic scene between Troy and Cory as it is a weapon that is used by both characters to threaten each other. It is symbolic that both Cory and Tory fight each other with a bat since Troy's inability to play professional baseball as a result of racism is the main reason that motivated him to disrupt his son's career in sports. Therefore, it seems symbolic that his two sons battle using a symbolic representation of the deferred dream.

The author also uses the fence as a symbol, primarily since the central drama of the play revolves around building the fence in the Maxson backyard. However, the lives of characters change when they are making the fence. The fence also represents the relationships or bonds that are broken while fixing the fence in the backyard. Moreover, the fence can be identified as a symbol to represent the things which Troy wishes to separate himself. He tells Cory that his things will be on the other side of the fence (111). This indicates that the fence will act as a divider between Troy and the things he does not want to be associated with. The fence also represents the emotional barrier which Troy put between himself and Cory after he won the fight between himself and Cory and sent his son away. Also, the fence can be used to represent the symbolic barrier between Troy and death. When he discovers that Alberta died during childbirth and warns death to stay on the other side of the fence away from everything that belongs to Troy (55). Troy chooses to complete the fence as a way to shield his family even though he knows he will lose the fight against death. On the other hand, Rose views the fence as a positive thing. To her, the fence is a symbol of her love as it represents love and nurturing. She wants the fence to be rebuilt to hold the ones she loves (32). Her view of the fence is different from the view her husband has of the same fence since Troy views the fence as a separating entity. Therefore, the fence can also be used to illustrate the difference between Troy and his wife Rose since the main difference between them is how both parties view the fence.

The author uses Raynell's garden as symbolism in the play. Wilson uses the garden to symbolize the new life of the Maxson family after Troy dies. Raynell was Troy's illegitimate daughter who is introduced at the end of scene 2. The garden symbolizes Raynell's positive attitude towards the world since instead of mourning the death of her father, she plants a garden on the day of his funeral. Furthermore, since Raynell is in charge of taking care of the garden suggests that she is the piece that holds the family together as the garden is the symbol of the family's well-being. The garden represents the idea of new life and growth of the family. The garden also serves as a symbol of hope for Raynell as she is consistently digging and checking on the garden to see if the garden has grown. Through the act of growing in the garden, Rose illustrates the notion that things will get better eventually despite the passing of Troy. The garden also symbolizes the idea that there is potential for the family to continue to thrive and flourish, just like the plants in a garden do when tended to appropriately. The garden also symbolizes the change and growth in Cory. The idea of "shadow" indicates that Cory was a specter who followed Troy wherever he went. When Cory explains that he wants to "get rid of that shadow," he implies that he does not want to become the man that his father was. Therefore, planting the garden symbolizes Cory trying to grow out of his father's influence at the same time when Raynell is desperately for her garden to grow. Therefore, both the garden and Cory need to grow into the people they are meant to be.


The play "Fences" illustrates the numerous problems which African American people faced during this time when people were dealing with lack of money, racism, limited employment opportunities as well as the stress of being hopeful through all these challenges.

Work Cited

Wilson August. Fences. 1985.

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Analysis of "Fences" by August Wilson. (2022, Mar 28). Retrieved from

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