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Play “Fences” by August Wilson Analysis


“Fences” is an American play composed by playwriter August Wilson in the year 1985. The play examines the progressing African-American life experiences related to cultural practices and races among other themes. It is important to analyze the play fences and understand how different perceptions of the characters regarding their past and what they did about their future lives played a critical role in enhancing the conflicts between them.

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August Wilson is one of the most prominent playwriters of all time. He was born on 27th April 1945 and died on the 2nd of October 2005 (“August Wilson”). His father, Frederick Kittel, was a German immigrant, while his mother, Daisy Wilson, was of African American origin. Wilson began his education at St. Richard’s Parochial School and later transferred to Connelly Vocational High School. At the age of 15, he pursued a private education and earned his high school credentials at Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh. When his father passed on in the year 1965, he was 20 years old (“August Wilson”). He adopted the famous name “August Wilson ” at the time and began his journey in art and poetry. Wilson and Rob Penny co-founded the Black Horizon Theater in 1968 as Wilson sank deeper into the world of poetry (“August Wilson”). His play “Fences” can be analyzed through various aspects including:


In the play, characters deploy the Black English dialect creating imageries of their life experiences. The language used by Wilson efficiently conveys the typical life of African-Americans in Pittsburgh. The Black English language links the characters in the play with a specific context of their culture. For instance, in the play, Troy is a powerful character, and he deploys his language to express his dominance over his son, Cory. He is strict with Cory although he wishes for a better future for him. For example, when Cory inquired his father, Troy, why he seems to dislike him, Troy answered harshly,

“Liked you? Who the hell say I got to like you? What law is there say I got to like you? Wanna stand up in my face and ask a damn fool-ass question like that. Talking about liking somebody, come here, boy, when I talk to you.” (Wilson 37). Cory feels terrified and walks toward Troy, who continues to use harsh language.

Troy uses softer language when conversing with his wife, Rose, about Troy. He says, “I don’t want him to be like me! I want him to move as far away from my life as he can get. You are the only decent thing that ever happened to me. I wish him that. But I don’t wish him a thing else from my life” (Wilson 39). Regardless of the harsh language used by the character, Troy wants the best for his son.


The play is set in 1957, a significant landmark period for The Civil Rights Movement. It was the year when several black communities felt entangled between oppression and violence without any possibilities of a better future (Palko). The play was strategically set in the filth yard of Maxson in a two-story building. Two old chairs are placed on a porch in bad condition and in need of painting. The message behind the setting clearly communicates the low living standard of Maxson. The setting constantly reminds the audience how money is the basic concern of Troy and his family.

Pittsburgh was the hometown of Wilson, and he used it as the setting of almost all his plays. Pittsburgh is a significant place because many African American people live there. African Americans moved to the North to escape racial discrimination and poverty in the South (Palko). They hoped to secure jobs in the North (Pittsburgh being of the cities in the North), but unfortunately, others such as Troy did not find stable employment opportunities. Troy complains,

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“Woman…I do the best I can do. I come here every Friday. I carry a sack of potatoes and a bucket of lard. You all line up at the door with your hands out. I give you the lint from my pockets. I give you my sweat and my blood. I ain’t got any tears. I done spent them” (Wilson 40). Pittsburgh signifies accomplished and broken promises since there are people who got employment opportunities while others such as Troy only resorted to manual activities for survival in the town.

Plot and Characters

  • Troy Maxson is the protagonist of the play
  • Rose Maxson, Troy’s wife
  • Cory Maxson, Troy’s son
  • Gabriel Maxson, Troy’s bother
  • Jim Bono, Troy’s friend
  • Lyons Maxson, Troy’s son from a previous marriage
  • Raynell Maxson, Troy’s illegitimate daughter

The play is subdivided into two acts. The first act has four scenes, and the second act comprises five scenes. The play commences on a Friday during Bono and Troy’s payday. Troy Maxson works in a sanitation firm in Pittsburgh after his dream of becoming a profound baseball player failed. He was rejected due to his old age hence becoming bitter over the missed opportunity. He brought tension in the family by denying his son the chance to participate in other sports activities.

In conclusion, August Wilson uses various tactics to communicate his intended message in the play and to build on the themes on which he is focusing. Language is a fundamental aspect that he uses to show the feelings and desires of different characters in the play. The setting he chooses is symbolic and instrumental in illuminating the true picture of society at the time. Thus, the play is well formulated and critically crafted not only to entertain the audience but also to build on the themes.

Works Cited

“August Wilson.” Biography, 2020, Web.

Palko, Janice L. “August Wilson: Pittsburgh’s Playwright.” Popular Pittsburgh, 2016, Web.

Wilson, August. Fences: A Play / By August Wilson; Introduction by Lloyd Richards. New American Library New York, 1986.

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