August Wilson – Fences
Fences is one of the great American plays of the 1950’s and as in most of Wilson’s plays it explores the theme of race relations. Most of the time, the play focuses on the main character which is Troy and his experiences in baseball in the segregated society which was prevalent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Fences continues to harp on the main theme which is race relations during the extensive discussion Troy has with his workmates and friends especially in the aftermath of his career in sport. Due to the fact that Troy was poorly piad, he saves up very little money and thus he has to live a pretty boring and uneventful life in his later years without much hope.
The play then turns into a monologue in the final act with Troy building a fence around his property to keep out the spectre of death. This is obviously a very powerful part of the play and the monologue is searing in its intensity. In it, Troy continues to reflect on his bad lot where he is now close to death and without much hope in life.
He laments the unfortunate situation in which African Americans find themselves when they try to go across the colour line which is barred to them. He also attempts to instil values of hard work and thrift in his son stating that death can now claim him even if it is close by. These powerful statements bring the play to a close in a very emotional and beautiful fashion.
There are some interesting real life parallels with ‘Fences’ especially in an interesting article about Ray Dandrige, a former baseball player which was published in 1987 (Vecsey, 1987). Here Dandrige tells his son to get a job in very similar vein to Rory who knows that without proper employment, the life of African Americans is very hard and difficult.
Wilson used some rather bare staging for this work which includes the usual props and some intriguing home grown devices such as planks and a normal set. His lighting techniques focus on the main character Rory who receives the lion’s share of proceedings and in some cases he is also very much in the mix.
Wilson sticks to conventional scripting in his play although there are several reflections on African American jargon especially in the final monologue. The final scene is also poignant where Troy’s son seems to be continuing in his father’s footsteps and a sense of continuity is created too (Kennedy 2011).
Wilson also infuses the other characters such as Troy’s wife, Rose with intrinsic humanity. Rose is made to accept that Troy has had an affair with another woman called Alberta although we never see this woman in the play. She also had a son who died in childbirth and the whole episode revolves around these intrinsic moments of sadness and despondency. Wilson is extremely powerful in depicting such scenes which can be said to form the kernel of the whole play.
Allusions to African-American troubles
The leitmotif which consistently runs throughout the play is the dire situation in which African American people find themselves in the United states of the 1950’s. The play consistenly refers to the segregation in sport, particularly baseball where coloured persons could not play alongside white persons with the end result that these became completely marginalized.
The play is also infused in social commentary especially where housing situations are concerned. The tight dialogues between family are infused with considearble nervous tension as the Troy affair comes to light and his son is also given a pretty hard time when faced with certain situations. /here we have constant fights between father and son as these are attempting to wrest control over each other with the mother obviously siding more with the son than with the father.
Work issues are also dwelled over and the camaraderie between African Americans at their place of work is also explored at length. Consequentially we have situations where innate racism is overcome by heroic stoic resistance and Troy is also a figure to whom colleagues look up to. The play explores these issues with innate sensitivity to the situation of the time.
‘Fences’ remains an important play in the African American contribution to literature in the 1950’s. It was the recipient of several prizes including the Pulitzer prize and had over 500 performances at Broadway. It is surely one of the finest examples of the age in the art of monologue and as such is a highly recommended play for viewing and an eventual revival.
Vecsey G (1987) Sports of The Times; Ray Dandridge and ‘Fences’; The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/1987/05/10/sports/sports-of-the-times-ray-dandridge-the-hall-of-fame-and-fences.html
In this article, Vecsey reflects on the parallels between George dandridge’s situation and Troy in fences. Nothwistanding all this, dandridge’s situation is markedly different from Troy’s as he eventually became a success in the end and this is clear also from the article. It is an interesting social commentary on the African American situation in sport and makes for intriguing reading.
Kennedy XJ (2001); Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (8th Edition); Longman
Here Kennedy espouses the virtues of ‘Fences’ and focus on some of the most interesting parts of the play especially the final monologue. He also comments extensively on the family situation reflecting on the effect the scene where the Troy affair is revealed. Kennedy continues to explore parts of the play with zest and interest and also provides some intriguing new angles. I found Kennedy’s summary precise and interestingly argued.
Gioa D, Kennedy XJ (2011); Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing (11th Edition); Longman
In this latest edition, Gioa and Kennedy again tackle ‘Fences and the social mores of the day with intense scrutiny. There is extensive commentary on the way the author uses African American slang and other diverse aspects in this regard. I found this new perspective highly interesting as it also focused extensively on the relationships between African American families and their problems in the 1950’s and how the play attempts to deal with these.
Wilson, August (1986). Fences: A Play (First edition ed.). New York: Plume.
The play itself is obviously an intensive read and is obviously highly recommended to all who wish to delve deeper into the subject. The main theme remains segregation in sport as well as the social commentary during those years where African Americans suffered daily indignities and humiliations.
Napierkowski, Marie Rose (ed.) (January 2006) . "Fences". Drama for Students. vol. 3. Detroit: Gale
This article provides a good and effective synopsis of the play which also focuses on the plot and other aspects of the production. It is a fine piece of writing and effectively summarizes all the main points of the play including historic performances which I found very effective.