Fences is a play by August Wilson, an American playwright, a Pulitzer’s laureate, who wrote about the life of African Americans in different periods of the 20th century. He chronicled the African-American experience through a series of 10 plays. In the 1950s, the South was still officially segregated, and in the North, many African Americans faced unofficial racial barriers. Fences represents the 1950s, which is the era of civil rights. The purpose of this essay is to consider the issue of racial segregation raised in August Wilson’s Fences using the method of socio-historical analysis.
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The play takes place in the 1950s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a predominantly black neighborhood. Slavery had gone from America for over 70 years, but its shadow still pressed on the country. All the characters are African-American, and they must deal with racism every day. The protagonist of the play, Troy Maxson, is a tragic hero in that he never reaps the rewards of his sacrifices, as he is prevented by the limits placed upon his race during his lifetime. Troy was the child of an angry and abusive sharecropper who barely survived his complicated life in one of the most racist periods of US history. As a teenager, Troy runs away from his abusive father, coming north to Pittsburgh, and survives as a homeless and jobless man through theft, for which he ends up in prison.
When Troy is released, he becomes a professional baseball player but is prevented from playing in the major leagues because of racial segregation. He is forced to play in the much lower playing, though more talented Negro Leagues. As a result, he ends up being a garbage collector and works hard to barely support his family. He also fights to become the first African-American driver where he works but gains this right too late in his career to financially benefit. Troy is a man who has been the victim of racial discrimination. He has allowed his anger to blind him to the new opportunities that are beginning to open up toward African Americans, including to his children.
There are some key themes of the play, and family is the most significant one.
Racial segregation and social obstacles, as a consequence of inequitable distribution of public goods and services in the American society, has affected all family members. The key conflict centers on the tension between Troy and his son Cory “which springs from the son’s desire to play football in ‘whites’ team” (Soumya and Jalarajan 568). Cory is a talented football player and a hard-working boy with significant potential. He denies the opportunity to go to college because of his father. He refuses to take advantage of a football scholarship out of his father’s fear that Cory is going to go through the same disappointment Troy had in his own life. The conflict between the father and the son is a negative consequence of racial discrimination.
The issue raised by August Wilson in Fences is the damaging impact of segregation and other forms of racism. Nevertheless, there are numerous symbolic images in the play that represent a hope for improvement in race relations in the future. Fences is an example of the family drama and a human tragedy of the 1950s in the United States – the era of racial segregation.
Jose, Soumya, and Sony Jalarajan Raj. Generational Dissension in August Wilson’s Fences. vol. 5, no. 2, 2014, pp. 568-582.
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