Literary Analysis of “Fences” by August Wilson

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 2315
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


Fences is August Wilson’s arguably most outstanding work. Written in 1983, the moving drama examines the relationships and life of the Maxson family. Besides, the drama’s action starts in 1957, with the plot created through a period until 1965. The drama occurs in a run-down tenement of black people within Pittsburgh with a partially fenced dirty yard. The theater features Troy Maxson, a former criminal and an unsuccessful yet talented baseball player. Currently, he is a father and garbage collector, who becomes a drunkard to death, cheats on his wife, and throws out his son from the house. After this, Troy fences his home to safeguard it from extinction. The fence between his family members is symbolic, with the family surrendering to death under the family tree baseball within the yard. Troy realizes that he has lost everything he had in life. While the drama focuses on Troy’s family, the race is one of the most common themes.

Most of the drama is set within 1950s Pittsburg. Fences concentrate on the experiences of a black family staying in isolation and escalating the black rights movement era. Significantly, it exposes the phenomenon between the inner world of the black community and the stretch of the white power around this community. It is essential to note that there had been exceptional progress made on race relations by the time, including integrating the pro sports teams. Nevertheless, on a broad scale, the U.S. had a long way to cover regarding the racial equation in the country. While the nation had eliminated slavery, its shadows were still evident in American society. Further, all of the play’s characters are African Americans, who must face and deal with daily racism. Troy contends that blacks could not only get a job, but they also could not find a place to stay (Wilson 23). The drama exposes the segregation in the South.


Troy’s description of living conditions provides several clues to his identity. The action takes place in the courtyard of Troy’s two-story brick house (Wilson 7). The house is the object of Troy’s pride and shame, and the hero has anxiety about it. He is happy to put a roof over his family’s head, and it is his way of showing that segregation in the South does not seem to concern him. He is ashamed because he has a house due to his mentally unstable brother, who receives disability checks. Troy uses these funds for his well-being, but the family cannot be entirely grateful for these gifts.

To convey the message of racism, August uses symbolism. It is fundamental to note that Troy constructs the fence in front of his home symbolizes segregation and the overall need to build a fortress where the blacks can separate themselves from the white-dominated society around their vicinity. In this society, black people were never given equal rights as their white counterparts and were constantly subjected to unfair and unjust treatment. The fence can be viewed from different angles. From one perspective, it reflects the geographical implications of segregation, the fencing of black minorities, and the generation of ethnic insularity in specific neighborhoods. Besides, the fence is a monument to the white political and economic power instigated by the social division. While Troy appears to build the wall alone, Rose initially tasked him with constructing it to shield her and the family away from the white-dominated world, safeguard their privacy from the whites, and divisive impacts associated with the white dominance of the American society. The fence is an affirmation and security to the black world within the family and the compound.

But it is not only the fence that is symbolic of the work; it is also full of other elements that raise questions for the reader. According to the playwright’s description, “the wooden sawhorses waiting for the lumber” (Wilson 8). Why is this paint needed, and will it help keep Troy’s family together? In practical terms, the porch is a recent addition to the house. Consequently, it could be viewed as an unfinished task. This task lingers in Troy’s wake, as do many other incomplete problems. Troy’s wife has no attention: Rose is only eighteen, and her husband does not give her any time. He wastes no energy or resources on painting the fence, on taking care of his wife: only the border remains his way of interacting with the outside world. Ultimately, he does not bind himself to his marriage or the unpainted, unfinished porch, leaving each to its own devices.

Family Relationship

Troy’s relationship with his family is generally not right: he is rather harsh and rude, and his problems take precedence over his family. Unfortunately, he conflicts with his son Cory-a young dreamer who wants to break out of the frame. Tory is a former basketball player, and the bat figures in the story is leaning against a tree, and a ball of rags is tied to a branch. Later in the play, when father and son argue, the bat will be turned against Troy, although he wins the standoff. Troy Maxson was a baseball player, but he never earned the recognition he thought he deserved.

Baseball serves as a primary way of explaining Troy’s behavior: he uses it to justify his actions. He uses baseball terminology when he talks about facing death, comparing a throw-in with a grim reaper. As he mocks his son Cory, he warns him, “You swing and miss. That’s strike one. Don’t strike out!” (Wilson 80). In the second act, Troy confesses his infidelity to Rose. He explains that he has a mistress, and she is pregnant with his child. He uses a metaphor to explain why he had an affair.

Racism Behind the Fence

The drama also depicts characters compelled to define their world based on limited by the while economic and social racists system. For instance, at Troy’s workplace, the organization is based on racial hierarchy, where whites are given privileges. Specifically, white men are hired to drive the firm’s garbage trucks while blacks can only get jobs as garbage collectors. Again, most of the speeches highlight their status as minority people to describe their societal position in connection with white power and dominance. Thus, through symbolism, the drama depicts how racism structures and governs the characters’ daily lives to expose the different impacts of racism on the black community in the 1950s.

The details Wilson uses to underscore the relevance of racism at the time related to the last years of Troy’s life. Like other undesirables of his race, he was forced to pick up trash and always remain on the fence from society with high-paying and nobler jobs. Troy worked from the back of a garbage truck for almost two decades with his friend Bono. Together they hauled junk around Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods and alleys, but Troy wanted more. He finally secured a promotion, not an easy task because of white racist employers and union members. Eventually, Troy gets a promotion, allowing him to drive a garbage truck. It creates a secluded occupation, distancing him from his friends: and this again alienates him from the conditions of the outside world; he refuses his native African-American society.

The Theme of Sports in the Drama

Fences is an anti-sports play with a message similar to that of Slaughterhouse-Five. The author’s position is that sports are destroying people; athletic trainers, who are called coaches and revered as professors, are sending new and new athletes to the slaughterhouse. At the same time, journalists romanticize the truth so that thousands of young fools will continue to believe that they can change the harsh reality of the sports world.

Troy excelled in the Negro championships as long as he could, producing stats that whites could never have dreamed of. The hero believed that he would have been an MLB star, but blacks were not allowed in the major leagues in his day. Troy’s youngest son Corey is promising in American soccer and is enrolled in college on a scholarship, but Troy cuts his son’s athletic career short. He thinks white men will fool him anyway — they are careful to let only second-rate blacks into their teams to show that they are good for nothing. Cory’s need for significance drives him to play soccer, and it drives Troy himself to swing a bat (Wilson). Troy’s oldest son is a talentless musician; he is in his 30s (Wilson). He says music is the meaning of his life, but everyone understands that he just wants to feel more important. Only Troy’s wife, Rose, is happy to submit to her husband’s ego.

Troy’s Character

Sometimes life can numb a person’s soul to such an extent that any manifestation of feelings can be considered superfluous. It is as if a person begins to repair an invisible fence around himself, thereby keeping out the dearest and closest people, counting on mutual love and support. Such a situation can lead to difficult family dramas and troubles in life, which happened to the main characters of Fences’ family drama.

Troy Maxon is the central figure in the picture, a stubborn and strong man who was once an athlete and now works as a garbage collector. On Fridays, he allows himself a drink, a somewhat relaxing, legitimate break, during which he tells tales with his friend, jokes around, and puts the reader in a peaceful mood (Wilson). However, a tense steely note begins to show in the characters’ conversations. Readers discover that Troy’s career has been blighted by segregation, and his marriage to the stunning Rose is not so perfect either.

Troy is his own protagonist and antagonist — the hero creates problems for himself because of the invented ideals, code of honor, and many other principles that he is guided by. Reflecting his life experiences on his children, he does everything, albeit harshly and at times even brutally, to ensure that they grow up to be worthy members of society. Despite the whole collection of negative qualities (which, all the same, are contrasted with a lot of positive), it is impossible not to empathize with the main character.

The fence, which Troy builds throughout the play and finally finishes at the end, symbolizes the protagonist’s life. He has shut himself off from his sons, fixating only on himself. In doing so, the hero alienated himself and his loving wife. Having made many mistakes in life, Troy threw over the fence the only thing he had in life, love. Being left alone with his fears, he only comprehended the burning feeling of loneliness, from which there is no hiding behind the fence, which he had built, first of all, in his soul.

The character of the main character is revealed in the conversations he has with his friend, Jim Bono. Readers learn that the protagonist has three children with different women and a brother, a war hero and a sufferer of schizophrenia. Troy creates the image of a man who is severely bound to a certain place his hometown. He has lived his whole life in the same town, and his philosophy of life can be easily understood. Troy’s wife appears to be the only understanding person among the main character’s other relatives.

The fence, which appears in the title, is built over the course of several years in the drama and does not appear completed until near the end of Act Three. Troy intended it as a symbolic way of containing death, but it also reflects the emotional barriers he built between himself and his sons. The fence is also the result of Rose’s efforts to maintain in safekeeping what she holds dear. Except for what that fence is for — protection from the outside or the preservation of what is inside — his will only be known to the heroes themselves.

The Versatility of the Play

Despite its African American flavor, the story of Troy and his family remains entirely universal. Fences does not emphasize its racial and social conditioning. It is, in many ways, a classic story about fathers and children and the danger of becoming a hostage to one’s inner prejudices. The long dialogues and lengthy monologues of the characters form the basis of the play. However, in these words, in these replicas, varying from a pleading whisper to a tearful cry, not only the characters are revealed, but also the whole multi-dimensional and deep problems of the play.

The text of Fences raises so many diverse issues, from family and parent-child relationships to personal life choices, destiny, and freedom, that every reader can find something that resonates with them. This one is such a real and vital play about something very important, about people and the secrets between them. However, Fences is also about life and how things can be complicated and confusing, but one must be strong, kind, and remain human. Everything is determined by life in some way, and everyone has their own path. To most individuals, there are as many trials as they can endure, and people should never feel sorry for themselves.


August Wilson’s play, for which the author won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, is a multifaceted literary work that raises many philosophical questions. In Fences, America in the 1950s is a completely conventional and nominal unit. The main character of the picture and the catalyst for everything in this play are the fences. Moreover, they are the starting point for all sorts of conversations, including the plight of the working class and the racial inequalities and oppression of black people in the country. The storylines in Fences represent the heavy threads of each family member’s thoughts and experiences. This small yet sweeping story tells its readers about serious things. The dialogues composed by the author make people empathize with the fates of the Troy family members and realize how universal their experiences are.

Work Cited

Wilson, August. Fences. Plume, 1986. Web.