Interpretive Analysis: Fences

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Kelley contends that Wilson’s “Fences” has remained relevant over time due to its lively exploration of subjects such as injustice, selfishness, and the coming of age of the broken black man. The article defines segregation as the obvious racist behavior that separated black and white people, while coming of age is the advancement that distinguished Tory’s generation from that of his son, Cory. As a result, the aim of this essay is to objectively examine the three themes by examining the various behavior of the protagonist, Troy Maxson, to those who associate with him. As the play opens, Troy is brought out as a garbage collector who occasionally complains to his boss, Mr. Rand, about the inequality of the black people at the work place, where only white people are allowed to drive garbage trucks while the black people are restricted to lifting the garbage. As Blumenthal argues, such assertion by Troy paints him as an individual who believes he has every right to receive what the world did not give him when he was younger. Kelley points out that at the time, Troy is 53 years old, having suffered an abusive childhood where his father beat him mercilessly.

As the play unfolds, we are introduced to Rose, Troy’s wife, who loyally trusts her husband and requests him to build a fence around their compound in an effort to protect their love. Ladrica describes Rose as a good wife who cared about her family’s well being and one who was God fearing as she is seen singing about Jesus as a “fence” to protect their family. By representing Jesus as a “fence”, Wilson intelligently uses metaphors and symbols to illustrate the notion of religion among the black community at the time.

Ladrica further notes that despite Rose’s keen interest in her son joining the football team, Troy is rather angered by his son’s actions to follow after football practice instead of helping around the compound as he did during his young age. At a later stage, as Shackel and Jack describe, Tory is seen arguing with Cory over his interest in joining the college football club over working at the local grocery store. On the one hand, Tory’s argument is seen to stem from his concern for his son’s future by advising him to maintain working as it is best for his future as a black person. He is seen advising his son that in order to play successfully in a major league, he requires to be twice as good as white people, and he asserts that the college football team is composed of only white people.

On the other hand, Tory’s argument in advising his son to stay away from college football is seen as a selfish act fuelled by his current disillusionment in life given that over his fifteen years of playing in the negro baseball clubs he never had the opportunity to play for a major league club. It is only later that we see Rose advising Troy that the current world is unlike the world he lived in with more opportunities being availed for the black man given that a coach had promised to travel all the way from Pittsburgh to see Cory play. Consequently, this points to both themes of racism and the coming of age of the black man as it is evident that racism has reduced during Cory’s time compared to his. Similarly, more opportunities have been provided unlike previous times.

Blumenthal further highlights Troy’s unfaithfulness to Rose as she notes that he insensitively cheats on her and proceeds to have a child with his mistress, who she brings to her to bring up upon the death of her mother. The actions are seen to be insensitive and selfish on his part and those stemming from a desire to receive what he thought the world had rightly denied him as a young man, through the mistreatment by his father. As such, he resorts to treating everyone around him in a contemptuous manner and in a way that displays discrimination.

Ladrica further introduces Gabriel, Troy’s younger brother who had been injured in the war and was now currently under his care. While the act of caring seems noble and justifiable, it is only later that we understand that Troy had signed up Gabriel for an asylum in an attempt to ensure that he received part of the money appropriated for Gabriel following his injury from war. Selfishness is highly illustrated with the actions as Troy is seen to act in a manner that considers only his own benefit without considering those close to him.

Further, as the play progresses, we see Troy kicking his son Cory out of their home citing that it is time for him to earn his own living. While a heated argument arises regarding the actions, the theme of selfishness easily springs up as Cory reveals that the house from which he is being thrown out from rightfully belongs to Gabriel as his pay cheques were utilized in paying for the house. The action on the one hand, points out the selfishness of Troy in denying his son a place of living yet he did not own the premises. On the other hand, it also points out the theme of the coming of age of the black man as Cory was able to come up with arguments to challenge his father’s actions. As Kelley notes, when Troy was kicked out of his father’s house, he did not argue or complain, but rather decided to move out. Cory’s argument shows how he has been able to progress despite being a black person at the time.

In conclusion, the three themes: selfishness; racism; and coming of age of the black man are succinctly shown in the Wilson’s “fences” through the protagonist, Troy and his actions towards those who relate with him and his son Cory, who demonstrates how the world he lives in has come of age unlike that of his father. Cory raises arguments regarding the actions of his father whenever he feels they are unfair towards him, and as well, even at his father’s funeral, he is seen in attendance owing to the maturity of thought and being able to overcome the current challenges of mistreatment. As such, Wilson’s “fences” remains a classic worth reading as it offers countless lessons that are still relevant to this day.


Blumenthal, Anna S. “’More Stories Than the Devil Got Sinners’: Troy’s Stories in August Wilson’s Fences .” Contemporary Literary Criticism .Vol. 222. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 74-96. Gale .Web. 18 November 2009

Kelley, Steve. “August Wilson’S Raw ‘Fences’ Still Has Relevance.” The Seattle Times. N.p., 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2017.

Menson-Furr, Ladrica. August Wilson’s Fences. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013. Print.

Schakel, Peter J, and Jack Ridl. Approaching Literature In The 21St Century. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.

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