In the opening scenes of the play, we see that Troy is deeply dissatisfied with his life. Racial discrimination put a stop to his dreams of being a professional baseball player when he was young. For the past eighteen years he's been stuck being a garbage man. This leads to tension with his son, Cory, who has been offered a college football scholarship. Troy has convinced himself that his son will only suffer the same sort of discrimination and is determined to stop him. We also get hints early on that Troy may be having an affair, showing that he's dissatisfied in his marriage as well.
Troy has challenged the fact that only white men are allowed to drive garbage trucks. He scores a victory when he becomes the first black driver. We also get more hints that his affair has picked up steam. Troy seems to think this is no big deal. For the moment, at least, it seems that Troy is a bit happier.
Tensions erupt when Cory returns home, announcing that Troy went to the football coach and said he couldn't play anymore. Cory is furious at his father because this now means he won't have a chance to go to college. Troy doesn't back down from his decision, though, and tells his son to watch himself.
Things begin to go really badly for Troy. His mistress, Alberta, dies giving birth to his illegitimate daughter, Raynell. Rose, Troy's wife, agrees to raise the girl, but says that she's no longer Troy's woman. On top of that, Troy's best friend Bono doesn't hang out with him anymore. This is probably because he's disappointed in Troy for having an affair. Troy is also lonely in his new job as a driver, because there's no one to talk to sitting up front.
Things come to a head for Troy when he gets in an all-out fight with Cory. The two go at each other with a baseball bat. Troy wins the fight but loses his son forever. The play peaks with Troy not wishing for death, but challenging Death to come take him. The play's final scene ends on a hopeful note, breaking the usual tragic formula. In the closing moments, we see that Cory may be on the path to forgiving his father. The young man may just possibly escape making the same mistakes as Troy.