by August Wilson
Tools of Characterization
As in most plays, you can tell what kind of person each character in Fences is by the things he does. Troy's deeply conflicted and flawed character is obvious through his actions. For example, he works hard as a garbage collector to support his family, yet he kicks his son out and cheats on his wife. Rose's kind and nurturing character is clear when she does things like take in Troy's love child, Raynell. We see that Troy's brother, Gabriel, is slightly insane because he runs around all day chasing hell hounds and talking about how he knows St. Peter.
August Wilson is not afraid to write in some pretty massive direct characterizations in his stage directions. For example, when Troy first enters, the stage directions tell us, "Together with his blackness, his largeness informs his sensibilities and the choices that he has made in his life" (1.1.2). When Rose first enters, we're told, "She recognizes Troy's spirit as a fine and illuminating one and she either ignores or forgives his faults" (1.2.40). These sort of stage directions can be helpful to the reader and to any production team taking on the task of producing Fences. It's important to remember, however, that an audience watching the play would never hear the words.
Several of the characters' names seem to have deeper meanings. First, there's Rose. Always kind and nurturing, you could see the fact that she is named after a flower (a, beautiful growing thing) as emphasizing her maternal nature.
There's also Gabriel, Troy's brother. Due to a wartime head wound, he thinks he is his namesake, the archangel Gabriel. Throughout the play he comes to symbolize the judgment of God. Very often his innocence seems to highlight the sins of the other characters, especially Troy's.
Then there's Troy's last name – Maxson. This may very well be a combination of the words Mason and Dixon. The Mason Dixon was an imaginary line that divided the North from the South, which many African Americans crossed in the hope of escaping poverty and racial discrimination. Troy left his home in rural Alabama looking for work in industrial Pittsburgh. Though he now lives in the North, he is still haunted by the ghosts of his Southern upbringing. Just like that imaginary line, Troy is at the border of two worlds.