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August Wilson’s “Fences”

August Wilson’s

August Wilson’s play Fences portrays Troy and the relationship he has with his family. The conflicts he encounters are largely the result of his inflexibility to the choices made by people around him and the changes. Consequently, the main character experiences numerous disagreements with others and self, most of which are the precursors to his ascriptions of gender roles and psychological perceptions on human survival constructs. In particular, it appears that Troy has a specific understanding of gender specific roles within the society which he shows by his interaction with the wife. Overall, Troy has the stereotyped views on how world systems work; one attributed to what he perceives as black oppression. This discussion explores the portrayal of conflicts through gender constructions and psychoanalysis of the author’s unconscious desires and anxieties.

            Having experienced racial discrimination while growing up and been excluded from playing Baseball, Troy discourages his son from playing football. In fact, he wants simply to be a good father who provides and wants only the good for his family. Essentially, he harbors the belief that his son would not be able to also make progress in football because of his skin color. Troy uses this denial to project the idea that a good father provides for the family. According to his beliefs, it entails being stagnant and only pursuing what he considers to be of lower risks. Troy’s argument, thus, embodies the notion that in a society where the overwhelming problem is racial discrimination, one can only avoid being a victim by participating in the risk-free activities.

            Furthermore, Troy’s insistence that the son Cory must not engage in football presents his fear that his son might have the same experience he underwent when growing. The author uses him to show the extent to which the narrow perception of race and gender constructs are detrimental to the wellbeing of the people and remain the precursors to implicit and explicit discrimination. In the play, the implicit discrimination relates to the fact that Troy was not accepted for the national baseball team due to the color of his skin despite showing remarkable talent. Explicit discrimination, on the other hand, alludes to the notion that sport is not for African Americans. It also focuses on the man’s primary role to provide for the family as soon as he matures. These stereotypes depict Troy’s faulty assumption of the manner how the world works and the place of human being in it.

            Objectification and oppression of women also feature prominently in Wilson’s portrayal of Troy’s gender perceptions. Due to the fact that Troy has strong prejudices regarding the processes in the society, it is also obvious that he underestimates the role of women. His image of women allows him to perceive them as objects only good for the delivery of services. It is noteworthy that the author presents the other side of gender constructs as well. He describes how a woman voluntarily and conveniently allows a man to benefit from her mentally and physically in exchange for protection from the external and internal challenges faced by black women in the past century. Consequently, Troy takes advantage of this arrangement and subjects the wife Rose to constant abuse. Moreover, he never engages her in any constructive discussion despite her ability to offer much while parenting is concerned.

            Troy’s stereotypes to regard women as objects are evident during his highly sexual and flirtatious interaction with Rose. Furthermore, Rose confesses that Troy never gives back and demands more. The fact that Rose strives desperately to become a good wife makes her a strong and yet underdeveloped representative of the feminist discourse. The manner in which she handles Troy’s revelation about having had an affair and decides to raise his child further depicts her desire to become strong. However, it also serves to reveal the notion of Troy’s expectations of women to be the pillars of the family. Furthermore, her resolve to tell Troy that he would become a ‘womanless man’ but remain in the marriage for the sake of her children further reflects the choices, or lack thereof, presented to women by the patriarchal world and society that men, such as Troy, created for them.

            The complexity in the character of Troy and Rose allows the author to intertwine closely pragmatic and illusory coping mechanisms which help them both to lead their mutually unhappy lives. Wilson uses the contrast while representing the choices made by the characters, which primarily correspond to the opposite perspectives in which they view their respective worlds. He focuses mainly on Troy’s perception of  pertinent aspects of life. On the one hand, the narration of his battle with death makes Troy emerge as one who dreams of and believes in self-created illusions. Due to the character’s concepts of life, the struggle with death is the strong reminiscent of an actual fight with the physical being. The truth, however, is that the struggles he has exposed himself to are largely psychological and based on the personal thoughts and perceptions. Indeed, they cannot embody a real battle because the character’s enemy is inside his mind.

            Davis decides to explore this inner confrontation as the culmination of Troy’s past struggles and estrangement. The idea that Troy suffers from familial alienation is evident even if a reader cannot reveal it from the narration. However, a deeper analysis reveals that he faces imminent danger at home. Moreover, it eventually compels him to flee not only from the family but also from the country. His journey challenges him but ultimately transforms him. In fact, it becomes the epitome of his fight with a supernatural adversary. The reason why Troy has changed depends on his relations with the others. Despite having confessed to overcome the foolishness that characterized his past, Troy nevertheless remains driven by self-interest and individualism. He is accountable to virtually no one and relatively relishes his isolation. Everything that becomes as sources of support to Troy, namely Baseball, his friend Bono, and Rose who offers an alternative to his perceived isolation, fails to keep him grounded. As a result, he deepens his ultimate alienation from everyone.

            Troy’s wrestling match encapsulates the adversities he has been experiencing in the years prior to the match. They also include racism and unfair treatment he faced during his attempt to join the national baseball team. Wilson describes death wearing a ‘white robe with a hood on it, which is a reference to the KKK group operating in the United States. The depiction of death as a man of color enables the reader to relate Troy’s wrestling match to the racial injustices he suffered and respond to the match as being the culmination of his struggles. The author, thus, uses the white robe and hood to show the prevalence of racial hatred in the real world and death’s white robe to represent the racial oppression Troy has had to endure the pain and to reconcile the logic of his imaginations to reality.

            The description of pragmatism as a survival mean appears when Troy blames Rose for playing numbers and throwing her fortune away. Also, when Cory suggests that they should buy a new television, Troy rejects it by stating that money should be used for making a new roof. Truly, it is a noble decision. However, what surprises is that Troy suddenly becomes a realist when he encounters other people’s impractical decisions. The author uses this aspect to present him as having reserved for himself the right to dream. Troy’s responses in these two instances are rather hypocritical. They might relate to the fact that later, in the same scene, Cory makes a sensible observation concerning Sandy Koufax. Though, Troy dismisses subtly the thinking about Sandy Koufax. The irrationality of this rejection proves that Troy thinks that by simply not thinking about Sandy Koufax makes the player become suddenly nonexistent. However, despite fake indifference, Tory should be rescued as an “egotistical protagonist from the self-imposed state of dishonor.” Unfortunately, the hero establishes his stereotypes for no other reason apart from his racial background and the need to reiterate the political outcomes associated with being an African-American. Wilson’s desire for absolution contributes the image of self-created illusions which define the life of people.

            In the play, Wilson manages to explore societal gender constructs and the manner in which they influence not only decision-making capacities of individuals but also the interaction with other people. While depicting the play’s protagonist, Wilson allows the audience to comprehend inherent biases in gender perceptions among people of African descent alongside the racial prejudice that characterized their lives in the past century. The author also explores the pertinent issues regarding the existence of unresolved emotions, ambivalence, internal and external conflicts. He also describes them from a psychological perspective. It allows the readers to understand easily the complexities in the traits of the play’s major characters.


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