Fences Book summary

August Wilson




"Fences" was August Wilson’s third play, but the sixth chronological play of his ten-part drama cannon called the Pittsburgh cycle. Fences premiered in 1985 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and was published in 1986. It was featured on Broadway the following year and has remained a popular play throughout the world due to the universal themes that it explores. Fences like most of the author's other plays feature a black character who has suffered and made sacrifices so that other black characters don’t have to do the same.

The play is set in the 1950s, and August Wilson explores the lives of African American families following the great migration when former slaves left the countryside to find better opportunities for themselves in cities. The author links the release of enslaved people and the unreasonably high numbers of Black men in jail. He insinuates that people without resources, like the former slaves, will struggle to survive lawfully in a competitive and financed society. The play also indicates that the world of opportunities grew for African Americans in the 1950s, due to the growing influence of the foundational movements that eventually led to the Civil Rights movement. These changes made people like Troy, the protagonist of the play, who had grown up in the first half of the century feel like strangers. It is said that August Wilson wrote Fences when someone challenged his ability to write a true Aristotelian play. Fences went on to win a Pulitzer Prize as well as a Tony award.


Plot Summary


The play is set in the late 1950s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Troy Maxson is a middle-aged African American man, who works as a garbage collector with his long-time friend Bono. Troy lives with his wife, Rose, and his teenage son, Cory, who is a gifted football player. Every Friday evening, Troy comes home with Bono, drinking Gin, and hands over his wages to his wife, so that she may manage their household. Troy is facing issues at work because he’s been vocal about the racial discrimination at the workplace in the selection of Garbage truck drivers. This first Friday, Troy learns that a football recruiter is going to be visiting him to seek his permission to recruit Cory to a college football team. Troy is deeply cynical about the athletic establishment which he views to be deeply racist since he had been unable to play in the major leagues because of his race. The only way Troy had been able to afford his house had been through the compensation that his brother, Gabe, had received in the military after suffering a major head wound that had affected his sanity. Rose wants Troy to allow Cory to play, but he wants Cory to develop a skill so that he does not end up in the same situation as his father.

He places conditions on Cory’s participation in Football, asking Cory to keep up with the household chores and maintain a job. Cory lies to his father and does not keep his job since his football practice doesn’t allow him enough time to maintain a job. Troy eventually discovers this lie and refuses to meet with the recruiter thus ending Cory’s prospects of securing a football scholarship. Troy defends his actions as he talks to Bono, and his firstborn son, Lyon, by telling them about the horrific treatment he had received at his father’s hands. Troy was forced to turn to crime to support himself at the young age of fourteen, and he eventually found himself incarcerated for murder. He had found Bono and Baseball in prison, and been released to discover that Lyon’s mother had moved on while he had been in prison.

Troy ends up being promoted to the position of Truck driver for calling out the discrimination at his workplace. However, this marks the end of the relative bliss in the Maxson household as Troy soon confesses to Rose that he has been unfaithful to her. Troy has been seeing another woman named, Alberta, and she is soon going to be the mother of his child. Rose and Troy drift apart, but Alberta passes away during childbirth. Troy pleads with Rose and asks her to be the mother of his newborn daughter. She accepts the child but stops viewing herself as Troy’s wife.

A couple of months after Alberta’s death, Troy and Cory have a severe disagreement that turns into a physical altercation. Troy kicks Cory out of the house, and he only returns to the house upon Troy’s death in 1965. Cory has become a corporal in the Marines, but he yet retains a deep dislike for his father. Rose defends Troy’s actions and promises Cory that Troy had simply been trying to do what he believed to be right for Cory. Cory and Troy’s youngest child, Raynell, pay homage to their father by singing an old blues song that Troy had learned from his father while sitting on the porch.

  • Author(s)

    August Wilson
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Black Urban Realism