Literary Analysis of the Play Fences and Movie by August Wilson

The play, Fences, is a depiction of the failure of an average African American family back in the 1950s. Unlike the plays of Wilson, which took place in his backyard of Pittsburgh, Fences is not an exception, and it has various scenery areas. These changes at locations distinct from the play by August Wilson create new themes of the message and essence of the story affecting Troy and his family in a world with limitless opportunities. The collapse of Maxson Troy’s family is at the core of the struggle between the son and the father over conflicting visions of values, aspirations, and identity. The first scenery act symbolizes Troy as a dutiful breadwinner for his son, Cory, and his wife, Rose. Cory has a stable occupation – a sanitation worker.

However, Troy’s past is an implication of a scared man with boisterous bitterness and boundless energy. A stern and overbearing father soured Troy’s childhood. His motive for relocating to the North is accompanied by various themes; racism being one of them. As an African-American athlete, he experienced racism in the South. By being frustrated in his entire life, Troy engaged in crime and ended in prison (Pettengill 235). Thus, there is an aspect of his life in which one cannot feel fenced or confined. Location changes and character uniqueness are some of the huge differences that affected the entire vibe and effort of the Fence’s play and movie.

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Relocating From South to North

All of Wilson’s dramas take place in his backyard of Pittsburgh; however, in Fences, things are different. The Pittsburgh of the Maxson family is an urban area where Troy and other menfolk of his generation escaped from the brutal conditions of sharecropping in the south. Many African Americans moved to the north as far as they could go to become urban residents after the Reconstruction failed (Pettengill 235). This dramatic change in location, as opposed to the play by August Wilson, is a significant implication of the misery of the blacks in search of peace, food, and free from racial discrimination. Having no resources to rely on, men like Troy and Bono found themselves in a nasty world, spending years living in huts, theft, and in prison.

Wilson plainly draws a direct connection between the slave release to the uneven number of blacks in jails and the low-income occupations. Through his backyard as a dramatic scene, Wilson symbolically uses his play to show how the majority of homeless and resource-less individuals have a hard time to survive legitimately and gives up in a well-financed and competitive society (Plum 561). Wilson’s characters are symbolic testifiers to the point that the US failed the black community after Lincoln abolished slavery. The play reveals the failures of the government, how Jim Crow laws and other legal measures haunt many black lives. Through a one location-play, unlike the Fences, Wilson depicts the 1950s as a period when a new world of opportunities for the blacks started to open up, leaving the likes of Troy, who has life experience early century, to feel like foreigners in their native land.

Pittsburgh is a representation town of promise and broken promises, unlike Wilson’s backyard (Pettengill 235). Troy finds himself not in a position to secure a job when he first relocated to Pittsburgh. He ends up living in a hut and eventually resorts to crime to survive. The locational settings of Pittsburgh appear to be very significant because for what it is, and other industrial cities in the North represented a good number of black people. In the periods following the Civil War, several African Americans migrated to the North to escape from racial discrimination and poverty in the South.

Maxson’s Home and Prison

Maxson home is an African American home in an unknown town, perhaps Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Maxsons’ backyard, which is an extension of their house, signifies the indecisive feelings of Troy Maxson: his spirit, like his body, longs for the rootedness of home; however, battles its boundaries. His family’s responsibilities bind him more closely compared to the prison in which he has spent fifteen years. The backyard keeps Troy nearby to his home; nonetheless, it is not as confining as the house (Pettengill 236). Besides, the unfenced yard denotes the period of the play, a time when African Americans were close to loosening the restraint social and legal bonds, characterized by the tempestuous the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Raynell’s Garden

Throughout the play, the Maxson’s yard symbolized a place of peace and relief for Troy. However, he had emotions confined in him because of circumstances that compelled him to escape into the yard. Gradually, Troy would have overcome the bad memories, but he was not patient. On the day of Troy’s death, Troy’s daughter, Raynell, plants a garden in the yard. The next day, she went out to check whether anything had grown. “You just have to give it a chance. It will grow,” Rose told her (Shannon 231). The garden is a depiction of Raynell’s growth and the beginning of new life for the family. Raynell’s garden opens opportunity and growth after the demise of Troy. Ironically, the very day Raynell checks the garden, Cory states that throughout his life, he has been living in his father’s shadows. For Cory, the garden signifies growth from Troy’s shadows. It is also a representation of Cory’s development into manhood.

In summary, it is evident from the discussions above that dramatic change in locations or places in the Fences play and movie creates a new thematic message that reveals the misery life of the African Americans in a new world. In Pittsburgh, Troy finds himself in a nasty world, not able to secure a job when he first relocated. He ends up living in shacks and ultimately resorts to crime to survive. Their journey from south to north, men like Bono and Troy learns the hard way of life, having no possession to rely on, they remain servitudes. This scenario is an implication of the misery that African Americans face in the search for harmony, food, and free from racial discrimination. Besides, Maxson’s home is a symbol of a place of peace and relief for Troy.


Works Cited

Pettengill, Richard. “The Historical Perspective: An Interview with August Wilson.” August Wilson: A Casebook. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 2000, pp. 235-54.

Plum, Jay. “Blues, History, and the Dramaturgy of August Wilson.” African American Review, vol.27, no.4, 2012, pp. 561-67.

Shannon, Sandra G. “Annotated Bibliography of Works and about August Wilson.” May Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2010, pp. 230-66