Study Guide

Fences Setting

By August Wilson


The play is set in the dirt yard of the Maxson house. We're told that it's a two-story brick house, set off a back alley. Two junky chairs sit on a porch that's in bad need of a paint job. All this seems to communicate that the Maxsons aren't exactly the richest folks. The set reminds us that money is a constant concern for Troy and his family. They're getting by on Troy's garbage collector salary, but just barely.

Though we never actually hear the word "Pittsburgh," the play is definitely set there. Pittsburgh was August Wilson's hometown, and almost all of the plays in his ten-play cycle take place there. The play also directly mentions many Pittsburgh landmarks, like the Strip District, a popular market area.

The setting of Pittsburgh seems to be particularly important because of what it and other Northern industrial cities represented for many black people. In the decades following the Civil War, many African Americans migrated north to escape the poverty and racial discrimination of the South. They hoped to find work in the factories, but were often disappointed. Troy discusses not being able to find work when he first came to Pittsburgh. He ended up living in a shack and resorted to crime to survive. In some ways, Pittsburgh represents promise and promises broken.

The play's time period, the 1950s, is also important to think about. Some progress had been made in terms of race relations since Troy was younger. Probably the most significant bit of progress to the play is that pro sports teams had begun to be integrated. Of course, this seems to only piss Troy off more, because it rubs the racial discrimination he experienced as baseball player in his face.

It's important to note that even though progress had been made by this point in American history, there was still a long way to go. Keep in mind that this was before the days of the Civil Rights Movement. The South was still officially segregated, and in the North many African Americans faced unofficial racial barriers. The racial tensions of the time definitely fuel the conflicts of the play.