Study Guide

Fences Men and Masculinity

By August Wilson

Men and Masculinity

Rose: "What you all out here getting into?"
Troy: "What you worried about what we getting into for? This is men talk, woman." (1.1.41-1.1.42)

Troy seems to have some pretty traditional ideas of the roles of men and women. He tells Rose to go inside so that he and Bono can finish their manly conversation. Rose, of course, doesn't pay him any mind and never takes crap from him. We wonder if Troy really means it when he says things like this. Sometimes it seems like he's just teasing his wife. He knows sexist statements like the one above are going to rile her up.

Troy: "This is men talk. I got some talk for you later. You know what kind of talk I mean. You go on and powder it up." (1.1.42)

Here's another choice sexist comment from Troy. He basically implies that men are the only people worth talking to and that women are just good for sex. We get the impression later on in the play that Troy actually respects his wife much more than comments like this might imply.

Troy: "If my brother didn't have that metal plate in is head...I wouldn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of." (1.2.18)

Troy paid for his family's house with the money from Gabriel's disability checks. It seems like this is a real sore point for Troy. We wonder if he feels like less of a man because he wasn't able to provide a home for his family on his own.

Troy: "Yeah, what?"
Cory: "Yessir." (1.3.25-1.3.26)

Troy is constantly asserting his authority over Cory. It seems like he never wants his son to forget that he's the one in charge. Perhaps Troy feels so powerless in the other areas of his life that he's desperate to maintain his alpha-male status at home.

Cory: "The Pirates won today. That makes five in a row."
Troy: "I ain't thinking about the Pirates." (1.3.58)

Cory constantly tries to connect with his father, but Troy almost always finds a way to reject him. Here we see Cory try to start a conversation about baseball, but his father instantly shoots him down. This troubled father-son relationship forms the spine of the play.

Troy: "That boy walking around here smelling his piss...thinking he's grown. Thinking he's gonna do what he want, irrespective of what I say." (1.4.101)

Everybody's seen a male dog mark its territory by peeing on a fire hydrant or some unlucky bush. That's the image that Wilson draws on here to describe the growing father-son tension in the play. It seems like this very typical battle for male dominance may very soon explode.

Troy: "[H]e was chasing me off so he could have the gal for himself....When I see what the matter was, I lost all fear of my daddy. Right there is where I become a man...at fourteen years of age....I picked up them reins and commenced to whupping on him." (1.4.113)

Here Troy tells the story of the day he left home. His father caught him making out with a neighbor girl instead of doing his work. He then tried to chase Troy off so he could have the thirteen-year-old girl for himself.

It seems pretty noble to us that Troy stood up to his father on this day. He must've known his dad was going to beat the crap out of him for it, yet still Troy saved the girl from his father's lecherous clutches. Notice, however, that to Troy, becoming a man was defined by violence. Specifically, it was defined by violence between father and son. This idea has tragic effects later on in the play.

Troy [speaking to Cory]: "You a man. Now let's see you act like one. Turn you behind around and walk out this yard. And when you get there in the alley...you can forget about this house." (2.4.75)

Troy thinks that Cory is old enough to take care of himself now. He kicks his son out into the world to fend for himself. To Troy, this is how a boy becomes a man – by making his own way in the world.

Troy: "You're gonna have to kill me! You wanna draw that bat on me. You're gonna have to kill me." (2.4.102)

In their final climactic battle, Cory picks up Troy's bat and threatens him with it. Troy stands up to his father but ultimately loses the fight. He then leaves home to make his own way in the world. Notice that this is the very same thing that happened to Troy. Also, notice that the weapon used here is a baseball bat. To us, this seems like a pretty obvious phallic (penis-like) symbol. It seems pretty appropriate in this manly battle for domination.

Cory: "I'm not going to Papa's funeral.... I've got to say no to him. One time in my life I've to say no.". . .
Rose: "Not going to your daddy's funeral ain't gonna make you a man." (2.5.75-2.5.80)

Cory hopes to finally become his own man by not going to his father's funeral. He thinks this will somehow symbolically distinguish him from the man that still overshadows his life. Rose sees this as outright disrespect. She lectures her son, saying that it won't help make Cory into his own man. What do you think? Does Cory owe it to his father to attend the funeral? Does he owe it to himself? Which choice might best help Cory to become his own man?