Social Problems in Wilson’s “Fences” Play

In 1985, the American playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson published the play Fences. This work was published as part of the ten-part Pittsburgh Cycle, which recounts the complexities of African-American life in different decades of the twentieth century. Fences is a theatrical play that raises acute social problems based on the example of the life of the protagonist Troy Maxson. As a middle-aged black man, he lives with his family in Pittsburgh. His fate includes many comical and tragic moments associated with crime, raising sons, and finding his identity in the challenging years for an African-American. This essay is intended to analyze August Wilson’s play and highlight the social problems raised by the author in it.

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An outstanding playwright would not give his play a meaningless title. Although the fence is not the main object of the story, its construction gradually plays the role of an indicator of the development of relations between members of the Maxson family (Mashaiekhy and Kian 2018). One of the most dramatic is the relationship between the head of the Maxson family and his sons.

The prehistory of the conflict is described as follows: during adolescence, black Troy was not allowed to play an important role in sports matches, and white people had an advantage over other races. This has left a mark on Troy’s mind in the form of constant thoughts about racism and the eternal struggle that African-Americans would have to lead to survive in this world. Troy, who has grown up with this consciousness, is no longer able to find common ground with his son Cory, who grows up in a different socio-political climate where there were no racial restrictions on the game in the high league (Wilson 1986). Cory, unlike his father, does not feel the oppression of another race.

The same relationship ties Troy to Lyons, son from his previous marriage. Having missed most of his child’s growing up because of imprisonment, Troy tries to radically protect his child from possible psychological trauma that he may experience in the adult world. After all, Troy’s lack of support and constant pressure leads to a fight between them, who subsequently leaves the house. The end of this conflict is considered to be Lyons’ reluctance to attend their father’s funeral.

Based on the difference in views between the father and his sons, there is a generational conflict in which the father perceives the optimism of children as naivety and blindness. It is the lack of trust in children and the impossibility of going beyond one’s own life experience to look at the changing world in a new way. The reader can look at the wider picture to understand that racism is at the heart of this conflict.

Besides, there are many other social issues explored by August Wilson on the pages of the play. One such conflict is the sexism of the protagonist towards his wife, Rose. Warm feelings for her husband come to naught when she discovers that Troy has a secret mistress. At that moment, the woman realizes that she has spent her energy on a man who betrayed her trust. The same relationship reflects the disrespect that a person can show for his partner in a burst of passion. Such a person betrays the trust of his or her partner, who is willing to give up a lot of energy and ambition for the sake of their relationship free of charge.

The themes raised by the playwright are familiar to many people. These include social problems such as racial discrimination, sexism, and domestic violence. People who have been subjected to social oppression have a good chance of developing mental health problems in the future. August Wilson consistently and thoroughly reveals the nature of human relationships, and these dramatic lines make the play Fences relevant to the present day.

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Works Cited

Mashaiekhy, Masoumeh, and Kian Pishkar. “August Wilson’s Absurd Female Characters’ Spirituality in American African Society.” Journal of Applied Linguistics and Language Research, vol. 5 no. 3, 2018, pp. 287-299.

Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Penguin, 1986.

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