Till the late 1950s, racial segregation had not come to an end (Lichter 4). Various journalistic approaches were used to record the events at the time. Fences by August Wilson is a product of such recording of the events. The play is set in the 1950s as one of the 6th in Wilson’s 10th part Pittsburg Cycle. The play set in Pennsylvania is created to explore the gradual change of social balance, identity, and race.
In brief, the play has two main characters that help develop the storyline. At the helm of the play is Troy Maxson, a talented baseball player who does not get the opportunity to make his dreams a reality due to his family origin. Though Troy works very hard, he does not become successful, eventually loses enthusiasm and ends up working as a trashman. Consequently, Troy gets drawn in his anger and gives up the opportunities that begin to pen up as racial segregation diminishes. Since Troy’s brother Gabe got a brain injury in the World War, Troy uses his brother’s disability check to pay off his house. “If my brother didn’t have that metal plate in his head…I wouldn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.” (Wilson 1.2.18).
The theme of the play is the devastating impact of segregation and forms of racial discrimination and the hope for change in the racial views. The play is set in the time when racial segregation had become a plague to the society, and possibilities of its end were fast approaching (Guyatt 8). Troy represents the social class that has denied opportunities due to their racial background. Wilson aptly illustrates the effects of segregation on socio-economic development. Further, the play describes the impact of racial segregation on social identity because Troy ends up working at a garbage site and gives up the hope of pursuing his dream job. Despite this, he still talks passionately about baseball Troy: “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner.” (Wilson 1.1.82). He also denies his son from going to college due to fear of his failures.
The themes of the play are developed around rich symbolism. The fence built by Troy represents different things to the characters. He takes long constructing the fence to mean his life is trapped around impossibilities. Another important symbolism is the baseball bat that represents his reflection of who he wanted to be, a successful baseball player. It also depicts the denied opportunities of black Americans as he has no chance to play baseball professionally despite being very talented. The gardens and seeds are symbols of the importance of patience and nurturing. The writer even uses the name of one of the characters to illustrate a symbol. Rose, Troy’s wife, symbolizes the flower in the garden. Rose reminds Troy of her commitment when she says, “I took all my feelings, my wants and my needs and dreams and I buried them inside of you, I planted a seed and planted myself inside you and waited to bloom and it took me eighteen years to realize the soil was hard and rocky.” These symbols help in the development of the themes.
The play is presented in different versions, a written play, as well as other audio and video versions. After watching a video version of the play, it is easy to conceptualize it. Unlike the dialogues without pictorials, the film enhances understanding for the audiences. The theme of racial segregation comes out clearly in the various circumstances within the text. These video versions help limit misinterpretations as it is presented in its full context, both verbal and visual connotations.
Guyatt, Nicholas. Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation. Basic Books, 2016.
Lichter, Daniel T. “Immigration and the New Racial Diversity in Rural America.” Rural Sociology, vol. 77, no. 1, 2012, pp. 3-35.
Wilson, August. Fences. Penguin, 2016.