August Wilson


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Fences Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Fences  by August Wilson.

The play Fences is about Troy Maxson, a middle-aged black man, and his struggles to provide for his family in the 1950s. Written in 1985 by August Wilson, Fences is the sixth in the ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle, which examines race relations and explores the evolution of the African-American experience throughout the 20th century. It won a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Price for Drama in 1987. In 2016, Denzel Washington directed a feature film version of the play by the same name starring himself and Viola Davis.

The play begins in 1957 with Troy and his friend Jim Bono sharing drinks and stories on Troy’s porch. Jim brings up Alberta, a woman to whom Troy may be taking a fancy, though he denies it. Rose, Troy’s wife, comes to say that their son Cory is being recruited to play college football. Troy had once played for the Negro league but was disillusioned with the barriers for advancement. He doesn’t see a future in the sport for his son. Later, his older son, Lyons, stops by asking for money. Lyons is a struggling musician, and even though Troy is unhappy about supporting his son financially, he recognizes that his son is his own man.

The next morning, Troy’s brother Gabe comes to the house. Gabe received a head injury in WWII and now suffers a mental disability in which he believes he is the angel Gabriel. He thinks his brother Troy is upset with him for moving out of the house. Cory confronts his father and asks why they don’t own a television set. Troy responds with the importance of managing finances responsibly and not going into debt. They argue about sports and whether or not Cory should pursue football or work. Cory finally asks why his father doesn’t like him. Troy responds that, as his father, it’s his obligation to take care of him but ‘liking’ him has nothing to do with it. Rose overhears the conversation and tells Troy that he’s too old to play baseball again and that the world is changing around them.

Two weeks later, Troy gets a promotion to garbage truck driver. Lyons stops by to return the money he borrowed previously. They discuss Cory. Troy is disappointed that his son is sneaking off to football practice instead of keeping his job. He confides in Lyons that, as a 14 year old, he left home because his father was abusive. At the age of 15, he went to prison which is why he didn’t play major league baseball. Lyons invites his father to hear him play, but Troy doesn’t accept. Cory returns home upset that his father told the coach he could no longer play on the team.

The next morning, Troy bails Gabe out of jail. He had been accused of disturbing the peace. When he gets home, he works on the house’s fence with Jim. Jim points out that Rose is a great woman and that Troy should get his life in order so he doesn’t ruin things with Rose. Troy agrees that Rose is a good woman and admits his affair with Alberta. They finish the fence. When Jim leaves, Troy reveals to Rose his affair with Alberta and that together they are expecting a child. Rose is devastated that, after eighteen years of marriage, Troy is unfaithful to her. Troy claims the affair happened because he wanted to feel like a new man and unshackled by the pressures of family life. Rose responds that she’s been with him the entire time, shedding her hopes and dreams for her family. Troy grabs her arm tightly and Cory attacks him. Troy says that Cory has ‘two strikes’ against him and that there’d better not be a third.

Six months later, Alberta is about to give birth in the hospital. Rose informs Troy, who cannot read, that a paper he signed in front of a judge committed Gabe to a mental hospital, with half of Gabe’s money earmarked for the institution and the other half to Troy. A phone call from the hospital interrupts their conversation. Alberta died giving birth to a healthy baby girl. Troy brings the baby home. Rose agrees to take care of the baby, but tells Troy ‘you a womanless man.’

Two months later, Troy is sitting alone on the front steps drinking. Jim stops by and says he hasn’t seen Troy around much since he got the promotion. Troy confides that it’s lonely sitting in the front seat with nobody to talk to. Cory comes home and tries to walk around Troy. They have an argument and Troy kicks him out of the house. He says he’ll put his son’s belongings on the other side of the fence.

Seven years later, Cory is a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps and comes home. Troy has passed away. Jim compliments Cory on his life’s achievements and tells him his father would be proud. Meanwhile, Lyons has been in jail and receives special permission to attend his father’s funeral. Cory is still angry with his father and tells Rose he won’t attend the funeral, but his half-sister, Raynell, convinces him to go. Gabe is also given special permission to attend the funeral and seizes the opportunity to play his trumpet to usher Troy into the gates of heaven.

Fences covers a lot of thematic ground from its constrained setting. The fence is the most obvious thematic symbol of family. Rose wants a fence to establish a permanent, safe boundary in which to keep her family. Familial duty orders Troy’s life as a man, husband, and father.

The play also explores dissatisfaction. Troy is dissatisfied with his life since he missed his shot at playing professional baseball. Rose is dissatisfied with her husband after he reveals he cheated on her. Their children are dissatisfied with their father, whom they feel betrayed them with his selfish actions. All are dissatisfied with the life available to them as African-Americans before the Civil Rights Act. Each character has a hope or dream dashed either by family or race.