Literary Analysis of Fences by August Wilson

Subject: Literature
Pages: 2
Words: 1198
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


Fences are 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 in the yard. Troy realizes that he has lost everything he had in life. While the drama focuses on Troy’s family, 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, symbolizing 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 tasks him with constructing it to shield her and the family away from the white-dominated world, safeguard their privacy from the whites, and have divisive impacts associated with the white dominance of 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, or 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 figure 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 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 are 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 alienating him from the conditions of the outside world; he refuses his native African-American society.

Work Cited

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