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Divides Made By Fences Built
By definition, the structure of a fence is said to be a barrier that controls access or prevents escape from a specific area. In August Wilson’s Fences, this definition stands for much larger boundaries being set within each character’s interpersonal relationships. The idea of fences being built defines most of the central conflicts within the play from a metaphorical standpoint. The extremely unhealthy social enclosures that Troy Maxson’s character forms between his family and friends will ultimately push them all away, leaving him the sole object of isolation.
The only literal fence in the story is one that Troy’s wife Rose wants him to build around their yard. Troy is very uncommitted to building the fence, much like his lack of commitment to his wife and marriage. Instead of working on this project he goes out and cheats on his wife. The purposeful barrier constructed by this affair is explained by Troy with, “…She gives me a different idea…a different understanding about myself. I can step out of this house and get away from the pressures and the problems…be a different man” (Wilson 1316). He sees his affair as a way to escape, when in actuality it just solidifies the divide between him and his wife. Ironically, the very idea of building the fence in the yard can be seen as Rose’s attempt to keep her family unified. Troy’s friend Bono, who is the only person who knows about the affair initially, tries to explain this to the uncomprehending Troy, “Some people build fences to keep people out…and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold onto you all. She loves you” (1312). The fence in the yard is only seen as a finished project after Troy’s mistress dies in childbirth with their daughter Raynell. This is an important reflection on who Troy is as a person because he only decides to commit to this simple task for his wife once his other options are off the table. The affair was a hold that he had on himself, completely locking him out of the family obligations he should have been committed to all along. By this time, his wife wants nothing to do with him from a marriage position. Rose communicates that she will help raise the baby but that as a result of his actions he is now, “a womanless man” (1321).
Troy has conflicting relationships with his sons, Lyons and Cory, throughout the play. The reasoning behind each dynamic is different but both are unhealthy and turbulent because of Troy. His oldest son, Lyons, who he had through a previous marriage can be seen as a business transaction relationship from the surface. The only time they interact is on payday when Lyons comes to borrow money from his father. There is a negative tension between the two over this loan routine because Lyons is a musician and Troy thinks he should get a decent job. Upon offering to get him a spot at his own place of employment hauling garbage, Lyons tells his father, “I don’t want to be carrying nobodies rubbish. I don’t wanna be pushing nobodies time clock” (1292). This upsets Troy because obviously hauling garbage wasn’t his ideal career either but he has to make money somehow so he tells Lyons, “Where you think that ten dollars you talking about come from? I’m suppose to haul people’s rubbish and give my money to you because you too lazy to work” (1292). Troy blames his son’s lack of work ethic on how his mother must have raised him. Lyons informs his once absentee father that, “If you wanted to change me, you should have been there when I was growing up” (1292). Throughout Lyon’s childhood, a jail yard fence kept his father from being in his life and this is the foundation for all of their personal conflicts with each other. He missed 30 years of his son’s life due to the barrier of prison and because of that their relationship is strained beyond repair.
The relationship that Troy has with his younger son Cory is a lot more volatile compared to his with Lyons. Cory is a high school football star, and the once athletic Troy resents this. Troy had to miss out on going professional due to his age and race at the peak of his skills. This shapes a bitterness in Troy that he has chose to take out on his son since birth as he explains, “ I decided 17 years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports” (1302). Rose is an advocate for wanting to allow Cory to continue with his football aspirations and tries to explain to Troy, “Times have changed from when you was young Troy. People change. The world’s changing around you and you can’t even see it” (1303). The problem is, is that Troy doesn’t want to see it. He says he doesn’t want his son to go through what he went through but when it all comes down to it, he is jealous that Cory has these opportunities that he himself never had. As a result, he tries to control everything encompassing Cory’s life to try and hold him back from becoming more than Troy ever could. After he forces Cory to quit the team, Cory begins to read through the lines regarding his father’s demeanor towards him and says, “’Just cause you didn’t have a chance! You just scared I’m gonna be better than you” (1311). This is strike one to Troy after hearing this blow to his inflamed ego. This is a pivotal moment because it signifies the further downward spiral of their relationship. A few months later after all the affair business is out in the open, the divide between father and son is permanently set after a physical altercation. Upon telling Cory to get our of his house, a symbolic dialogue is exchanged. Cory says to his father, “Tell Mama I’ll be back for my things” and Troy coldly responds with, “They’ll be on the other side of that fence” (1325). This not only symbolizes the wall built between them up until this point, but the forever rift between them that follows.
As Troy destroys his relationships with his family, he consistently sill has his friend Bono in his corner. They met in prison and are bonded because of that experience. However, Bono is the first person to find out about Troy having extramarital relations and this causes a distance between the longtime friends. Bono expresses his concerns about Troys questionable decisions as he tries to enlighten him with, “I remember when you met Rose…That was the first time I knew you had any sense. I said…My man Troy knows what he’s doing…I’m gonna follow this nigger…he might take me somewhere…I done learned a whole heap about life watching you…Rose a good woman, Troy” (1312-13). Bono, up until this point has idealized Troy into being this great guy, someone he looks up to and respects. All this is essentially lost when Troy destroys him family, the main thing Bono based this respect for him on. He stops coming by the house to visit Troy and the seldom times he does their communication is short and has clearly evolved from a best friendship to a simple acquaintanceship, if that. Troy points this out on one of the occasions and states, “You ain’t stopped by in a month of Sundays. Hell, I must owe you money or something” (1323). Bono blames the lack of interaction on Troys new position at work claiming, “Since you got your new promotion at work I can’t keep up with you. Used to see you everyday and now I don’t even know what route you’re working” (1323). It is evident that the real underlying reason is that who Troy is as a person is not this great guy Bono once believe him to be. Bono sees his true colors and no longer wants to follow Troy because where he is headed is not anywhere positive.
Slowly but surely, Troy Maxson destroys all of this relationships by means of metaphorical fences. A structure that is meant to ideally keep people secure becomes the complete opposite for their deteriorating family. He loses his wife a as a result of some childish whim to escape his responsibilities. He loses his sons because he is selfish, resentful, and controlling. He loses his best friend once he sees all the hurt Troy is capable of causing. It is only after Troy’s death that the family really comes together as one entity again. Once all congregated inside the confines of the home and fence, they wait for his funeral. Troy is finally forever fenced out by mortality. Strike three, he’s out.
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