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Building A Fence Around August English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1418 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Family life of the 1950's was different from any other time in America's history. Many soldiers returned home from war and married young, in hopes to create simpler lives for their families. For so many, this was the white American Dream. For African Americans, this dream was much harder to attain. For Troy Maxson, the tragic hero in August Wilson's Fences, this was no exception. In her essay, "Baseball as History and Myth in August Wilson's Fences" Susan Koprince notes that for Troy, "the American dream…turned into a prolonged nightmare" (1104). Racism, segregation, and poverty ran amuck and many blacks found it difficult to find success in this white man's world. However, at the heart of all of Wilson's classic and timeless works, are what he refers to as "the Big Themes", "love, honor, duty, [and] betrayal" (Miles, 1096). These universal themes are integral and allow readers to understand the plight that black families in the fifties had to endure, in order to get by.

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Troy Maxson, above all else, takes to heart his duties as a sole provider for his family. However, Troy often finds himself torn between a desire for more personal liberties in his own life and a sense of commitment to care for his family. These duties to his family are not without fault. Although Troy is a wonderful financial provider for the family, he still feels he does not need to show affection to any of his children. This rings particularly true for his youngest son, Cory. While they work to erect a fence around their yard, Cory asks his father, "'How come you ain't never liked me?'" Troy, furious at this inquiry, tells Cory, "'it's my duty to take care of you. I owe a responsibility to you…Not cause I like you! Cause you my son'" (Wilson, 1049-50). As breadwinner for the family, Troy necessitates himself to deliver food and shelter, but he makes it clear to Cory, as sole provider, that is all he is required to give. Furthermore, Troy's remarks show readers just how defeated he is of the never-ending task of caring for his family. Troy, however, is not the only member of the household that has an obligation to the family. After Troy confesses to Rose about his affair and the child that Alberta is carrying, Rose chides, "'I gave everything I had to try and erase the doubt that you wasn't the finest man in the world...Cause you was my husband'" (1067). These remarks allow readers to grasp the role Rose undertakes as Troy's loving and faithful wife. Harry J. Elam Jr. notes in his essay, "August Wilson" that, "Troy's adultery… propels Rose, to reassess her situation, to gain a greater self-awareness, to change (1102). Rose is a powerful representative of steadfast loyalty; she remains committed to Troy and her duties to him, despite his unfaithfulness to her. Even as she undertakes the role of caring for Troy's lovechild, Rose evokes a powerful sense of sympathy from readers. Despite the infidelity, Rose decides to stay with Troy for the sake of the family. This act additionally solidifies her duty as a wife and mother. In the argument with Rose, following his confession, Troy exclaims that he has spent his whole life trying to live a "'decent...clean…hard…useful life'" (Wilson, 1066). This remark illustrates how Troy has always been the provider of the home they shared for many years, even though the affair may have only recently started. It appears to readers that through this comment, Troy justifies his own reasons for the infidelity. In his essay "Fiery Fences," Clive Barnes remarks how Troy eventually "sees himself as a man fenced in with responsibilities" (1085). Ironically, the fence Troy erects around his home, imprisons him from achieving the independence he so desperately craves.

Betrayal runs even deeper throughout Fences, and nowhere is this more prevalent than with Troy. The main issue of betrayal comes in the shape of Troy's affair with Alberta. From the onset, Bono has suspicions about the affair and even mentions to Troy that he has caught him "'eyeing her'" (Wilson 1031). Troy's seemingly innocent glances foreshadow a major destruction, that ultimately kills the life and family that Troy and Rose have worked years together to build. The extent of Troy's betrayal does not stop at his own wife. He even betrays someone closer in bond: Gabriel. This is perhaps the pinnacle of his deceit. At one point in the play Rose scolds Troy, "'You did Gabe just like you did Cory… wouldn't sign the paper for Cory…but you signed for Gabe'" (1069). Her remarks show readers just how skewed Troy's priorities really are. Troy will not even consider signing Cory's permission slip to allow him to play college football, in part to Troy's bitterness that his own son my eclipse him in the success he could never achieve. However, by committing Gabriel to an asylum, even after years of collecting half of his brother's monthly disability checks to pay for the house they live in, readers view just how selfish Troy's actions and motives truly are. Rose feels it is in Gabriel's best interest to send him to the asylum; Troy's earlier reasoning is that Gabriel should remain out. Troy once again betrays her by ultimately going back on his word and sends away his own brother.

Fences is a universal and brilliant story because it deals with family and a desire for love and honor. By having an affair with Alberta, Troy dishonors the pact that Rose and he enter into when they first marry. Rose nevertheless, honors her part of the arrangement and remains with Troy. She even accepts Raynell into the family, as her own child, after Alberta dies during childbirth. As Troy begins to tell his wife that he is having an affair, his choice of words is extremely attention grabbing. He tells Rose, "'I'm gonna be a daddy. I'm gonna be somebody's daddy'" (1064). By using the term daddy, it appears as if Troy displays a sense of love and affection towards his unborn child, whereas father represents a generalized term for a strict male parent. Troy's eldest son Lyons comes back around after hounding his father for money several times and says, "'See, Pop…I was fixing to pay you back that ten dollars like I told you'" Lyons ultimately honors his word to pay Troy back the money that he seeks almost every week. Even as Lyons returns the money, Troy initially refuses to accept the loan repayment (1054). The readers view this as an example of Troy's love of his son, perhaps for all the years of being an absentee and neglectful father. Once Cory learns about Troy's affair, he loses all respect for his father. This is most apparent when Cory tries to get by his father on the steps and Cory remarks, "'I ain't got to say excuse me to you. You don't count around here no more'" (1074). Troy still orders Cory to honor him and feels justified in demanding a sense of respect. The final scene of the play hinges on themes of honor and love as Cory returns home the Marines seven years later. Rose's impassioned speech persuades Cory to decide to love and honor Troy, and attend his father's funeral. In her essay "August Wilson's Gender Lesson," Missy Dehn Kubitschek notes that as Cory and Raynell sing Troy's favorite song Old Blue, "they ritually evoke the ancestors" (1097). Readers find that Cory is now ready to let go of the past because of the love Troy ultimately shows for his children.

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Fences explores the dynamic and often times, tumultuous relationships between both husband and wife, and father and sons. August Wilson's four big themes of love, honor, duty and betrayal not only help to capture the struggles that each member of the Maxon household must endure to survive in this very unforgiving time; these themes additionally allow readers to sympathize with each of his characters. Troy, the quintessential tragic hero, builds a fence around himself to shut out the unhappiness that he endures in every facet of his family life. Unfortunately, Troy's fence only keeps out the love his family wishes to provide him. Rose rises from the ashes of a cheating husband and is able to assert herself further in her duties as mother to Cory and Raynell. Cory learns that he has the power to break the cycle and become his own man while still being able to love, honor and respect his father. For each of these characters, they are able to move past their pain and anguish in hopes of fulfilling each of their American dreams.


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