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Position Paper About the Play “Fences”


In the current research paper, the main aim is to answer the question of which conflict does August Wilson uses most to drive all the other elements of the story in his play “Fences.” To address the problem adequately, the following plan is followed. First of all, a brief biography of August Wilson is provided, and a short overview of the play “Fences” is presented. Secondly, a conflict area is chosen that has the most reliable text support. Thirdly, a thesis statement is presented, and a compelling argument is formulated. The central conflict in the play is between Troy and Death. He is in inner conflict with Death throughout the whole story trying to accept it.

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August Wilson and His Play “Fences”

August Wilson was a German-American author and an essential figure in the theater world, who became famous for his plays on black American life. He was born in 1945 in Pittsburgh in a poor district that inspired him for his future writing career (McCollum, nd). Writing and directing plays were not his focus at first; he preferred poetry and short stories. His friend brought him to professional life in his early thirties, and since then, he found his passion. For the play “Fences,” he received a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Play in 1987.

“Fences” is a drama written in 1985 and premiered in Connecticut. Troy Maxson is a protagonist of the story, who recalls his love for baseball and expresses disappointment that he failed to be accepted in major leagues. Troy work on the fence, and one day his son, Cory, tells him he was invited into a football team. Troy does not accept the idea and suggests that his son get back to his job in a store. Moreover, Troy confesses to his wife Rose an affair with another woman, Alberta. The story is about the tragic life of the protagonist: he loses his son due to their conflict and his wife because of the affair. Besides, Alberta dies in childbirth, and his best friend Bono refuses their friendship because of his affair. The play ends with Troy’s funerals years later after the events.

Troy vs. Death Conflict or “Mr. Death”

At first sight of the play, it might appear that the most present conflict that drives all other elements of the story is the tension between Troy and his son Cory (Troy vs. Family). However, at a more in-depth look, it becomes clear that the story is driven by the protagonist’s inner conflict between himself and his mortality. Throughout the play, Troy always personifies Death by talking to her, arguing, and teasing. His battle with such an abstract as Death occurs because he does not find peace with his own life. He is angry at fate for the failed career as a baseball player that has always been his most prominent dream. The failure does not allow him to move further in his life, destroying the relationships inside his family, himself, and even with his close friend.

Troy’s conflict with Death becomes the most apparent during the hard times of his life. The confrontation can be observed from the beginning of the play when Troy recalls the moment he was in hospital and Death visited him: “Death stood up, threw on his robe…had him a white robe with a hood on it” (Wilson, 2019, p. 8). When he shares the story with his wife and the best friend, the scene is the first manifestation of the conflict with Death that brings the other sub conflicts forth.

Further on, new external conflicts arise in Troy’s life, and he continues his inner monologue with Death. When losing his lover, Alberta, he furiously talks to Death: “All right…Mr. Death…I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I’m gonna build a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See? You stay over there until you’re ready for me” (Wilson, 2019, p. 25). On the one hand, Troy is afraid of Death, trying to protect his relatives. On the other, he continually competes with her, as he cannot lose anymore in his life.

His internal conflicts (including the major one with Death) are the driving force of all the events that occur during the play. Troy is unable to let his past (a career in baseball) be the past, and he fails to accept the irreversibility and inevitability of it. He tries to fix it in his head, destroying everything he possesses in the present moment (Jacobson, 2019). Troy does not have enough strength to accept his life as it is and take responsibility for it. Instead, he rules his son’s life and ‘fights’ with Death.

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In conclusion, it should be stated that the conflict between Troy and his mortality moves forward all the elements of the play “Fences” by August Wilson. Death is a character that lives in Troy’s head and uncovers his internal struggles. The confrontation with Death brings all events and external issues of the protagonist forth. The inability to break the vicious circle of the past leaves Troy with failures and the constant internal and external problems.


Jacobson, E. (2019). What is the major conflict of the play? eNotes Editorial. Web. 

McCollum, C. M. (n/d). August Wilson. National Endowment for the Humanities. Web.

Wilson, A. (2019). Fences. Penguin.

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