“Fences” is a play written by American playwright August Wilson. It is part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, also known as the Century Cycle, which consists of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, exploring the African-American experience.
“Fences” by August Wilson is now part of the reading material for literature students in WAEC, NECO, and JAMB from 2021 to 2025.
ABOUT AUGUST WILSON THE AUTHOR OF “FENCES”
August Wilson, born on April 27, 1945, and passing away on October 2, 2005, was an American playwright and author.
He achieved Pulitzer Prizes for two of his works, namely “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson.” Wilson’s upbringing occurred in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, an animated but economically challenged neighborhood that served as the backdrop for the majority of his plays. Raised alongside five siblings, his mother, Daisy Wilson, assumed the role of caregiver after his father, Frederick August, departed from her and the children. “Fences” was published in the year 1986.
Other Books Written by August Wilson
Apart from “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson,” August Wilson wrote several other plays as part of his ambitious ten-play cycle, each set in a different decade of the 20th century. Here are the titles of the remaining plays in the Pittsburgh Cycle:
- Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1984) – 1920s, explores the exploitation of African American musicians.
- “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” (1984) – 1910s, focuses on identity and the impact of slavery.
- “The Seven Guitars” (1995) – 1940s, follows blues guitarist Floyd Barton and addresses ambition, love, and betrayal.
- “Two Trains Running” (1990) – 1960s, set in a Pittsburgh diner, touches on urban renewal and the civil rights movement.
- “Jitney” (1982) – 1970s, explores the lives of Pittsburgh taxi drivers, addressing community, gentrification, and father-son relationships.
- “King Hedley II” (1999) – 1980s, centers around King Hedley II’s struggles with poverty, crime, and family.
- “Radio Golf” (2005) – 1990s, the final play in the cycle, explores gentrification and the impact of progress on a community.
BACKGROUND OF “FENCES” by AUGUST WILSON
“Fences” is set in the US after the Second World War (1939-1945). August Wilson, an African-American playwright used the play to portray the lives of blacks and colored people of the USA in their quest to achieve the American dream.
The play brings to the fore the centuries long racial discrimination and prejudice often initiated by the whites against blacks. Wilson presents characters from various age groups with teeming aspiration and hope to achieve the American dream of prosperity for all.
However, racial prejudice, apathy, failed marriage and others are hurdles before these characters.
FENCES BY AUGUST WILSON PLOT
The play begins on a Friday, Troy and Bono’s payday. Troy and Bono go to Troy’s house for their weekly ritual of drinking and talking. Troy has asked Mr Rand, their boss, why the black employees aren’t allowed to drive the garbage trucks, only to lift the garbage.
Bono thinks Troy is cheating on his wife, Rose. Troy and Rose’s son, Cory has been recruited by a college football team. Troy was in the Negro Leagues but never got a chance to play in the Major Leagues because he got too old to play just as the Major Leagues began accepting black players. Troy goes into a long epic story about his struggle in July of 1943 with death. Lyons shows up at the house because he knows it is Troy’s payday. Rose reminds Troy about the fence she’s asked him to finish building.
Cory and Troy work on the fence. Cory breaks the news to troy that he has given away his job at the local grocery store, the A&P, during the football season. Cory begs Troy to let him play because a coach from North Carolina is coming all the way to Pittsburg to see Cory play. Troy refuses and demands Cory to get his job back
Troy wins his case and is assigned as the first colored garbage truck driver in the city. Bono and Troy remember their fathers and their childhood experiences of leaving home in the south and moving to the north. Cory comes home enraged after finding out that Troy told the football coach that Cory may not play in the team. Troy warns Cory that his insubordination is “strike one” against him.
Troy bails his brother Gabriel out ofjail. Bono and Troy work on the fence. Bono explains to Troy and Cory that Rose wants the fence because she loves her family and wants to keep them close. Troy admits to Bono that he is having an affair with Alberta.
Bono bets Troy that if he finishes building the fence for Rose, Bono will buy his wife, Lucille the refrigerator he has promised her for a long time. Troy tells Rose about a hearing in three weeks to determine whether or not Gabriel should be recommitted to an asylum.
Troy tells Rose about his affair. Rose accuses Troy of taking and not giving. Troy grabs Rose’s arm. Cory grabs Troy from behind. They fight and Troy wins. Troy calls “strike two” on Cory.
Six months later, Troy says he is going over to the hospital to see Alberta who went into labour. Rose tells Troy that Gabriel has been taken away to the asylum because Troy couldn’t read the papers and signed him away.
Alberta had a baby girl but died during childbirth. Troy challenges Death to come and get him after he builds a fence. Troy brings home his baby girl, Raynell. Rose takes in Raynell as her own child, but refuses to be dutiful as Troy’s wife.
On Troy’s payday, Bono shows up unexpectedly. They both acknowledge how each man made good on his bet about the fence and the refrigerator. Troy insists that Cory leave the house and provide for himself. Cory brings up Troy’s recent failings with Rose. Cory points out that the house and property, from which Troy is throwing Cory out, should actually be owned by Gabriel whose government cheques paid for most of the mortgage payments. lroy physically attacks Cory who leaves the house for good. Iroy swings the baseball bat in the air, taunting Death.
Eight years later, Raynell plays in her newly planted garden. Troy has died from a heart attack Cory returns home from the Marines to attend Troy’s funeral. Lyons and Bonojoin Rose too. Cory refuses to attend. Rose teaches Cory that not attending Troy’s funeral does not make Cory a man. Raynell and Cory sing one of Troy’s father’s blues songs.
Gabriel turns up, released or escaped from the mental hospital. Gabe blows his trumpet but no sound comes out. He tries again but the trumpet will not play. Disappointed and hurt, he dances, makes a cry and the heavens open wide. He says, “That’s the way that goes,” and the play ends.
FENCES BY AUGUST WILSON MAJOR EVENTS
TROY AND BONO DRINK AND TALK ABOUT SUNDRY ISSUES
The scene takes place on a Friday, the friends’ payday and they observe their ritual drinking. This shows the intimacy of the relationship they both have which began in the prison. The first discussion they have centres on how Troy is handling and contesting the racial segregation at their workplace. The both work as garbage collectors. This action portrays Troy as an assertive and independent minded person while Bono who fears he might be sacked is portrayed as a foil to Troy.
Troy: You think only white fellows got sense enough to drive a truck? That ain’t no paperjob. Hell, anybody can drive a truck How come you got all the whites driving and the coloreds lifting? Bono raises the topic of an illicit relationship Troy is having with a girl named Alberta. This shows Bono as a true and faithful friend who will not shy away from warning his friend especially when he knows the action can put Troy’s family into trouble.
Bono: I ain’t saying that. I see where you be eyeing her.
Troy: 1 eye all the women. I don’t miss nothing. Don’t never let nobody tell you Troy Maxson don’t eye
Bono: You been doing more than eyeing her. You done bought her a drink or two.
Troy: Hell yeah, I bought her a drink! What that mean? I bought you one, too. What that mean ’cause I buy her a drink? I’m just being polite.
Bono: It’s all right to buy her one drink That’s what you call being polite. But when you wanna be buying two or three . . . that’s what you call eyeing her.
Troy bemoans the fact that racism kept him from playing professional baseball and how he wrestled with Death.
TROY GIVES LYONS A HARD TIME ABOUT BORROWING TEN DOLLARS
Troy’s son from a previous marriage, Lyons, 34 visits his father to borrow $10 on a day coinciding with his father’s payday. Lyons is a self proclaimed musician, obviously not a successful one. Wilson portrays Lyons as an ambitious and adventurous American youth who desires wealth but detests hardwork.
Lyons: Yeah, well, look here, Pop . . . let me have that ten dollars. I’ll give it back to you. Bonnie got a job working at the hospital.
Troy: What I tell you, Bono? The only time I see this nigger is when he wants something. That’s the only time I see him.
Lyons: Come on, Pop, Mr. Bono don’t want to hear all that. Let me have the ten dollars. I told you Bonnie working.
Troy: What that mean to me? “Bonnie working.” I don’t care if she working. Go ask her for the ten dollars if she working. Talking about “Bonnie working.” Why ain’t you working?
Lyons: Aw, Pop, you know I can’t find no decent job. Where am I gonna get ajob at? You know I can’t get no job.
Troy: I told you I know some people down there. I can get you on the rubbish if you want to work I told you that the last time you came by here asking me for something.
This discussion between the father and the son further reveals the character of Lyons as a
parasite who lives and feeds on people’s earning but detests to work Troy’s hardness on his son seems justified as he makes effort to inculcate diligence but perhaps done too late for the 34 year old. Troy eventually lends him the money which Lyons pays back
TROY STARTS BUILDING THE FENCE WITH CORY, THEY DISCUSS AND DISAGREE
Troy fusses initially that Cory is not around to help him in building the fence which Rose wants him to erect. Cory joins him and they begin to work Troy tells his son he doesn’t want him to play football and argues that professional sports are still too racist. Cory does not seem to understand why his father disagrees with his ambition and asks, “how come you ain’t never liked me?”. This leads to another round of tense moment as Troy lectures his son that he doesn’t have to like him; he only has to provide for him which he does to the best of his ability. This scene shows the discordance of expectations
between the two. Cory wants supports, care and fatherly love but Troy feels his does not owe him anything besides the provision of physical needs.
TROY COMES HOME TO CELEBRATE HIS PROMOTION
Troy comes home celebrating because he has broken the racial barrier at work by becoming a garbage truck driver. For Troy, this is a milestone achievement as hardly as any negroe ever drove the truck
TROY RECOUNTS THE CLASH HE HAD WITH HIS FATHER
Troy recounts a nasty experience he had with his father. This scene serves as a form of
exposition as it reveals similarity of characters between Troy and his father. For example, both Troy and his father have children from different mothers and both men were abandoned by their women. The apathetic attitude Troy shows to his family is glaringly influenced by his father who also had no love for him. After Troy’s father caught him romancing a girl, the father whips Troy and attempts to have the girl for himself to the indignation of Troy who retaliates and beats up his father. This action forces him to flee home and take to stealing for survival. He stabs one of his victim’s and gets imprisoned. Troy threatens Cory when the lad comes home angry about his father’s ending his football dream.
TROY ADMITS HAVING AN AFFAIR WITH ALBERTA
Troy confesses his extra-marital affairs to his wife after Alberta gets pregnant. The lack of remorsefulness at which he speaks amazes the wife.
Troy: I’m talking, woman, let me talk I’m trying to find a way to tell you . . . I’m gonna be a daddy. I’m gonna be somebody’s daddy.
Rose: Troy . . . you’re not telling me this? You’re gonna be . . . what?
This news undoubtedly shocked Rose who complains of investing several years of her life into Troy’s only to be told now that he has a baby on the way from another woman.
Rose: I done tried to be everything a wife should be. Everything a wife could be. Been married eighteen
years and I got to live to see the day you tell me you been seeing another woman and done fathered
a child by her. And you know I ain’t never wanted no half-nothing in my family. My whole family is half. Everybody got different fathers and mothers. . . my two sisters and my brother. Can’t hardly tell who’s who. Can’t never sit down and talk about Papa and Mama. It’s your papa and your mama and my papa and my mama…
Troy roughly grabs Rose’s arm but gets knocked down to his amazement by Cory. He threatens his son again.
TROY ASKS ROSE TO HELP RAISE RAYNELL
Alberta dies at childbirth leaving behind his newborn daughter. Troy begs Rose to help raise Raynell and Rose obliges. However, she tells him to consider himself womanless.
Troy gets into a big fight with Cory and wins. Troy kicks his son out and Cory joins the Marine. Troy dies seven years later.
FENCES BY AUGUST WILSON THEMES
THE AMERICAN DREAM
Troy Maxson is the embodiment of an African-American generation, growing up in the post-World War II era, that finds itself finally able to realize the American ideal of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Troy has become more successful than his father, who remained a poor sharecropper and never owned his own land or property but instead paid wages and his life to an unjust land owner.
This pursuit of the American Dream, however, is not without conflict. Troy cannot envision a generation doing more than his own accomplishment. He cannot imagine his son achieving an even greater dream.
Troy Maxson is a man who takes seriously his responsibility for his family. His seriousness also becomes his greatest liability. Troy is a man caught between his own desire for freedom, embodied in his affair with Alberta and his fathering of an illegitimate child. He displays his fierce sense of loyalty to his wife, children and brother.
Troy’s sense of responsibility comes from his own father’s bitter care for him and his siblings. His father’s betrayal poisons his own relationship with Cory. He abandons Rose for another woman and also abandons his son and brother. Troy demonstrates the idea that responsibility becomes as much as a liability as a virtue.
FREEDOM VERSUS PROTECTION
The fence in Wilson’s play serves as a symbol of conflicting desires. In one sense, Troy and Rose seek to build a fence to keep the world out of their lives. Rose’s desire for a fence symbolizes the way in which she seeks to protect her family. She seeks to kepp the family in the dangerous world out.
Though Troy seeks to protect his family, the fence also becomes a symbol of discontent in his own life. In his confrontation with Rose, Troy exclaims that he has spent his whole life providing for the family. He has been the protector and defender of a quiet, normal life.
FAMILY, DUTY AND BETRAYAL
Fences is a portrayal of family life- of how its characters view their roles as individual family members, and how each define their commitment or duty to the family; it also explores how betrayal can break the familial bond. Troy refuses to tell Coty he loves him: rather, Troy tells Cory he only acts out of duty towards him as a son and that there’s no reason that love necessarily must be involved.
FENCES BY AUGUST WILSON CHARACTERS
Troy Maxson: The protagonist of Fences, a fifty-three-year-old African— American man who works for the sanitation department lifting garbage into trucks. Hardworking, strong and prone to telling compelling, fanciful stories and twisting the truth, he is the family breadwinner and plays a dominant role in his over thirty-year friendship with his fellow sanitation worker, Jim Bono. Troy’s character is the centre-piece that all of the other relationships in Fences gather around. Husband to Rose, father
to Lyons, Cory and Raynell, and brother to Gabriel, Troy fails to provide the love and support that would mean the most to his loved ones.
Cory Maxson: He is the teenage son of Troy and Rose. He gets good grade at high school and college recruiters are coming to see him play football. Cory is a respectful son, compassionate nephew to his disabled Uncle Gabriel. An ambitious young man who has the talent and determination to realize his dreams. His coming of age during the course of the play makes him challenge his father, leave home and joins the Marines.
Rose Maxson: Troy’s wife and mother of his second child, Cory. Rose is a forty three African American house wife who volunteers at her church regularly. Unlike Trot, Rose is a realist, not a romantic longing for the by-gone days of yore. She has high hope for her son Cory and persuades her husband to let him play football. Rose’s acceptance of Troy’s illegitimate daughter, Raynell, as her own child, exemplifies her compassion.
Gabriel Maxson: Troy’s brother, Gabriel was a soldier in the Second World War during which he got a head injury that required a metal plate to be surgically implanted into his head. Gabriel is discharged from the Army and gets regular cheques from government but Troy used part of this money to buy the Maxson’s home. Gabriel wanders around the family’s neighborhood carrying a basket and singing. He often thinks he is not a person but the Angel Gabriel who opens the gate of heaven with his trumpet for Saint Peter on Judgment Day.
Jim Bono: Troy’s best friend of over thirty years. Bono and Troy meet each other at in jail. Troy is a role model to Bono. Less controversial than Troy, Bono admires Troy’s leadership and responsibility at work He is married to a woman named Lucille who is friends with Rose. Bono’s concern for Troy’s marriage takes precedent over his loyalty to their friendship.
Lyons Maxson: Troy’s son from a previous marriage. He is an ambitiousjazz musician. He grew up without Troy for much of his childhood because Troy was in the prison. Lyons, like most musicians, has a hard time making a living. For income, Lyons mostly depends on his girlfriend Bonnie. He serves prison term at the end of the play.
Raynell Maxson: Troy’s illegitimate child mothered by Alberta, his lover. She is raised by Rose following the death of her mother. She is the emblem of new hope for the future.
Alberta: Troy’s lover from Tallahassee and Raynell’s mother. She symbolizes the exotic dream of Troy’s to escape his real life problems and live in an illusion with no time. She dies while giving birth.
Mr Stawicki: Cory’s boss at the A&P
Coach Zellman: Cory’s high school football coach who encourages recruiters to come see Cory play football.
Mr Rand: Bono and Troy’s boss at the Sanitation Department who doubted that Troy would win his discrimination case.