Study Guide

Fences Family

By August Wilson


Rose: "I told him if he wasn't the marrying kind, then move out the way so the marrying kind could find me." (1.1.50)

It seems that in many ways Rose tamed Troy's wild and unruly ways. When she insisted that she be Troy's wife and not just his girlfriend, she made him see the value of family. This makes Troy's betrayal later on in the play all the more painful.

Lyons: "If you wanted to change me, you should've been there when I was growing up." (1.1.155)

Lyons points out that Troy was never around when he was a kid. We learn later on in the play that Lyons is Troy's son from a previous marriage. Troy wasn't around for Lyons because he was in prison for killing a man while attempting to rob him. You could see Lyons as representing Troy's first failure at creating a solid family and being a good father.

Troy: "I love this woman [Rose]. I love this woman so much it hurts. I love her so much...I done run out of ways of loving her." (1.1.173)

No matter what happens later in the play, it seems clear that the Maxson family has a foundation of love. It looks to us that, despite his later betrayal, Troy sincerely loves his wife, Rose.

Troy: "You all line up at the door with your hands out. I give you the lint from my pockets. I give you my sweat and my blood. I ain't got no tears. I done spent them." (1.3.127)

It seems like Troy very often sees his family as a burden. It's almost as if he sees himself as some kind of martyr, sacrificing his own life for the sake of his family. What do you think – is Troy just a whiner or is there a certain nobility to his daily struggles?

Lyons: "You ought to come down and listen to me play, Pop."
Troy: "I don't like that Chinese music. All that noise." (1.4.84-1.4.85)

The fact that Troy calls the jazz Lyons plays "Chinese music" shows the large generation gap between them. Troy seems to be even more distant from Lyons's life than Cory's. Still, though, there seems to be a lot less tension between Lyons and Troy. Why do you think this might be?

Bono: "My daddy came on through...Just moving on through. Searching out the New Land. That's what the old folks used to call it. See a fellow moving around from place to place...woman to woman...called it searching out the New Land." (1.4.104)

Bono never had a father figure, and he never had children of his own. He was afraid he would feel the urge to go "searching out the New Land" just like his father did. Perhaps Bono feels like it isn't right to bring a child into the world if you're just going to abandon it. Unlike Troy, he has broken the cycle his father started, but at what expense?

Troy: "How he [Troy's daddy] gonna leave with eleven kids?...No, he was trapped and I think he knew it." (1.4.109)

Here Troy figures that his father saw his family as a trap. It seems Troy very often feels the same way. His sense of duty to his family keeps him locked in a job he hates. In many ways, Troy has repeated the path of his father.

Bono: "Some people build fences to keep people out...and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you." (2.1.32)

Bono seems to think that Rose is having Troy and Cory build the fence because she senses that her family is falling apart. She knows tensions between Troy and Cory are about to explode. She might also sense that Troy is having an affair.

Rose: "And you know I ain't never wanted no half nothing in my family." (2.1.102)

Rose is especially upset at the news of Troy's illegitimate child because of the family she comes from. More than anything, she wanted a traditional home, with one father and one mother. Now, though, Troy's shenanigans have destroyed that for her after eighteen years of stable family life.

Troy: "When I found you and Cory and a halfway decent job...I was safe....I wasn't going back to the penitentiary. I wasn't gonna lay in the streets with a bottle of wine. I was safe. I had a family." (2.1.116)

Here we see that Troy truly values his family. He sees it as the thing that saved him from a sad life of jail, homelessness, and alcoholism. You could say that the real tragedy in the play isn't Troy's eventual death, but the disintegration of his family.