Q & A: Comment on the appropriateness of the title, Fences, in August Wilson’s Fences


Comment on the appropriateness of the title, Fences.

It is praiseworthy of the playwright’s dramaturgy of the play to make the events revolve round the metaphorical implication of the title. The fence is both physical and psychological. It is also observed that the fence constitutes effective characterisation, as we see from the conflicting ideals and differences that move the plot from the exposition to the resolution. Bearing this in mind, the title becomes the first potent tool for a literary appreciation of Wilson’s style in the play.

To start with, Rose, a flat character, remains committed to the goal of having her fence built by Troy and Cory, on her request. Bono, helping with the task, explains: “Some people build fences to keep people out…and other people build fences to keep people in.” The latter is Rose’s motive in the play. Physically, she wants an apartment free from the discriminating onlooking of their white counterparts, but the reader can deduce that in actual fact, the fence she wants built is symbolic of the love in which she wants to hold the members of the family together. As a recurring pattern in the traditional African-American plays satirising racism, economic subordination is a bane of the black family, in which they eke a living on the fringe that accrues to them from the menial jobs they can lay hold to. Similarly, Rose proves a shrewd housewife who is able to cater for the psychological needs of the family members in this situation and a good house manager more so. She also shows affection for the demented Gabriel, Troy’s brother. She berates Troy for his financial unintelligence over Gabriel’s illness money; shows Cory the love he needs to further in his football career; and still accommodates and raises Raynell, the baby Troy has with Alberta, his concubine. She does all that possibly to hold the family within her love, showing forgiveness to the offender and understanding for the needy.


But Troy is building the fence to keep the family out. This is seen in his irresponsibility as a father, infidelity as a husband and nonchalance as a brother. He lives in resentment of the past against the society that, to his unawareness, is changing, and so severs his paternal relationship with Cory. Irresponsible still, he cares less about Lyon’s welfare other than the stipend the boy gets from his on his pay days. Further, he spends Gabriel’s money to secure an apartment. To Bono, he becomes an unfaithful friend in the long run when, after his promotion to the post of a truck driver, he no longer meets him as is the norm. He fences himself against everyone, but realises this too late as symbolically noticeable in the song he sings on the train. Then, his remorse cannot bring down the fence since his ‘victims’ are now far away from him. He lives alone in his world of resentment.

Cory, too, working on the fence is symbolic of his creating a world of his dreams. After Troy refuses to sign his contract as a player in the country’s football league, he does not see himself in any filial responsibility to his myopic father. He becomes undaunted, rude and confrontational, leaving the house eventually, on Troy’s insistence. Hence the conflict between father and son – manhood versus youthfulness. Taken in his youthful jism to see the world Troy blinds himself to, he courageously leaves home and, seven years later, returns as a corporal in the U.S. military to bury his father.

The fence means different things to different people in the play – Troy, Cory and Rose – and also becomes a motif as well as the spectacle of conflict in the play. The completion of the project is not recorded in the play. This suggests the infiniteness of Rose’s love as seen in how she encourages others to forgive Troy, the offender of them all.

Furthermore, the play moves on a note of individualism for these characters so that we realise the misunderstanding that engenders the conflict and how Troy becomes a tragic hero. If little else, the subject matter of the play is the event of fences within a fence. The major fence being racism and the consequence being the conflicting understanding of the characters of how to deal with the situation.

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