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American Dream in August Wilson’s Play Fences

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In August Wilson’s play, Fences, the author wishes to study black characters in a predominantly white society. The play demonstrates that the fulfillment of the American dream remains only as a fantasy for the black community in a population where racism serves as their significant obstacle. Racism dramatically limits the extent to which blacks can fulfill their achievements. The black society lives in a country that claims to be the land of equal opportunities. However, they are required to tolerate various forms of discrimination. Fences is a play in which the author portrays an African American family and their troubles to fulfill their American Dream, even after such hard work. By considering the economic approach in Wilson’s Fences, readers can identify racial discrimination as a barrier for African Americans to achieve the great American dream.

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Inadequate opportunities to access wealth, power, and prestige are some of the reasons that lead to the failure of the American dream. The main protagonist of the play, Fences, “Troy Maxson’s life, is an aspirant and wishful African American who fails due to racial prejudice imposed on black people by the society.” Troy encounters restrictions in getting a job that earns income when he moves from the South to the North to find opportunities in more industrialized jobs. He hopes to find a chance to live the American Dream. According to Grover, Satish, and Vijay Prasad, “A pastoral dream of a new, fertile Eden, a success dream of financial prosperity, and a dream of world brotherhood to be realized in the new continent was considered as the three main components of the American Dream”. Troy eventually finds a job that is enough to meet his daily needs. Readers see that Troy had to utilize some of the money that his brother received from the government as a disabled Army veteran in order to buy a house for himself. Another source of income for his family was the money he received from his brother. Gabriel was living in Troy’s basement, and so the financial tension is exposed when Troy finds out his brother is moving out of the house. Clearly, financial problems were already hindering Troy Maxon’s life. After years of work, his income hadn’t given the Maxon family the ability to have something as their own. A part of American dream is owning big beautiful house with a fence around it, but Troy describes his house “ It’s been over ten years since that roof was tarred……The next thing you, its gonna be leaking all over the house. Then the wood rot from all the water, and you gonna need a whole new roof………”(Wilson 1.2.35-40). Troy could neither own a home nor play professional baseball. Troy was so impoverished that even buying a TV for his son was impossible. He had dreamt of playing baseball in professional leagues, which would not only give him riches but also a sense of prestige. Prestige was something that Troy did not have the privilege to experience because his society considered him as a garbage collector and, most vexingly, as an African American. Power is something Troy and his family were not able to make or possess. Troy’s mistake of going to prison and having an affair with Alberta did not let him have control over his family either. His wife Rose had built her world around him for 18 years, and his sons had missed out on necessary fatherly guidance. Cory’s becoming a leader in the United States Army instilled a sense of pride in both him and his father. Other than that, Troy’s funeral was the only time he received any honor.

Racial discrimination is another factor that affects the Maxon’s economic status as racial discrimination oppresses the black community and limits their ability to strive to achieve their best. “The dream seems appealing to an industrious and strong man like Troy, but he finally realizes that it is just an ideology when racial discrimination turns out to hamper his progress.” No colored person was able to escape the repercussions of being colored. White presence in society hindered the development of blacks. The southerners opposed the ending of slavery because it would lead their economy into crisis with the lose of black workers to work. Even though some blacks migrated to the North, they did not escape inequality and racial discrimination. In the beginning, we find that whites were the only people who were allowed to become drivers, and Troy questions the authorities by stating, “Brownie don’t understand nothing. All want is a change in job description. Give everybody a chance to drive the truck. Brownie can’t see that. He ain’t got that much sense” (Wilson 1.1 1432). Troy as a talented baseball player hopes to play in the Major League but realizes that no matter how talented he was, his color stopped him from attaining this dream. The intimidating presence of discrimination in Troy’s society is made clear when Cory wanted to become a football player, and Troy objected to that idea. Cory tried to prove that the professional League has changed and has embraced black players such as Hank Aaron. Troy also stood in the way of Lyon’s dream of becoming a singer for fear that his son will also face discrimination, and the fact that he doesn’t Lyon could suffer from failure of the American dream. Similarly, the author, James Truslow Adams states, “that the American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone with opportunities for each according to ability or achievement”. Moreover, this dream is not limited to pursuing personal wealth but also a vision of social order in which everyone should be able to display their capacities and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of their abilities. Despite the abolition of slavery, racism was still prevalent during that period, but towards the end of the play, we see a slow shift in society becoming more anti-racist.

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Troy had to go through a struggle even though he was ambitious and talented enough to achieve his American Dream. Troy was not provided with enough great job opportunities as whites, compared to the promotions in a job offered to the whites. Even though he excels amongst his white peers, rules and regulations obstruct his exceptional talent in baseball. The American Dream was a false ideology for African Americans and always remained out of reach, and this is the main focus August Wilson is trying to portray in the play Fences. 

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American Dream In August Wilson’s Play Fences. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 11, 2023, from
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