Study Guide

Fences Mortality

By August Wilson


Troy: "Death ain't nothing but a fastball on the outside corner." (1.1.82)

Troy says that "a fastball on the outside corner" was a pitch he could easily knock out of the park back in his heyday. So when he makes the statement above, he's saying that he's not afraid of death. He brags that he conquered death once when he had pneumonia, and he can easily do it again.

Troy: "Ain't nothing wrong with talking about death. That's part of life. Everybody gonna die. You gonna die, I'm gonna die. Bono's gonna die. Hell, we all gonna die." (1.1.88)

Here Troy shows a pretty practical view of death. Even though earlier on he was bragging that he beat Death up, he's not so deluded that he thinks he's immortal. Troy realizes that he and everybody else's time on Earth is limited.

Troy: "Death stood up, throwed on his robe...had him a white robe with a hood on it." (1.1.96)

Typically the figure of Death is depicted as wearing a black robe, but here it's white. Is this just a random fashion choice? Were black robes just not in for supernatural beings the year Troy wrestled with Death?

We're guessing there's a larger significance, since black-white racial issues are such a big deal in the play. It could be seen as a deliberate rejection of the idea that the color black should symbolize death. Some might see it as offensive that the same color often used to represent death (as well as evil) is also used to describe African Americans.

Death's white robes and hood might also be seen as representing the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist group responsible for so many hate crimes in the American South. The typical uniform for KKK members was (and still is) white robes and hoods. Perhaps by equating Death with the Klan, the play is referencing the many African Americans who lost their lives (literally and metaphorically) to white oppression.

Gabriel: "Did you know when I was in heaven...every morning me and St. Peter would sit down by the gate and eat some big fat biscuits?" (1.2.48)

It's interesting that both Troy and his brother, Gabriel, have had near-death experiences. While Troy was suffering from pneumonia, he hallucinated that he was wrestling with Death. When Gabriel was recovering from a battlefield head wound, he imagined he was hanging out with a friendly St. Peter. What do you think these individual fantasies say about each of the brothers? What might the differences between the hallucinations say about each brother's character?

Gabriel: "[St. Peter] Ain't got my name in the book. Don't have to have my name. I done died and went to heaven." (1.2.52)

Gabriel seems totally unafraid of death. In his mind, he's already been there and it wasn't so bad. How do you think his attitude toward death affects the way he lives his life?

Troy: "How you know how long I'm gonna be here, n*****? Hell, I might just live forever." (2.1.15)

Here Troy seems to have a pretty optimistic view of death. At other times he's little more realistic about it, but in this scene he seems to be in bragging mode. This tends to happen a lot whenever his buddy Bono is around.

Troy: "All right...Mr. Death....I'm gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I'm gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See? You stay over there until you're ready for me." (2.2.55)

When Alberta dies in childbirth, Troy feels Death has snuck up on him. He's determined to be ready next time and not to let it happen again. Of course, none of us ever really knows when death will come. Do you think Troy truly realizes this, or does he actually believe he can keep death at bay?

Troy: "Then you [Death] come on. Bring your army. Bring your sickle. Bring your wrestling clothes." (2.2.55)

Notice how Wilson brings back the image here of Troy wrestling with Death. We wonder if the play might be subtly referencing the Biblical story of Jacob, who actually wrestled with God. There are lots of Biblical references throughout Fences, so it would make sense that Wilson means for us think of Jacob here. In many ways Troy is like a figure from the Bible. He often seems to be wrestling with forces that are much larger than he is – Death being one of the strongest and most undefeatable.

Rose: "[Troy] swung that bat and then he just fell over. Seem like he swung it and stood there with this grin on his face...and then he just fell over." (2.5.74)

It looks like Troy finally lost his battle with Death. True to his word, he went out fighting, though. He died swinging his weapon of choice – a baseball bat. We wonder what the smile on his face was about. Did he perhaps find some bit of peace in his final moment on earth?

Cory and Raynell: "Blue laid down and died like a man / Now he's treeing possums in the Promised Land / I'm gonna tell you this to let you know / Blue's gone where the good dogs go."

Cory and his half-sister, Raynell, sing this song together in honor of their father. Though the words are about a hound dog named Blue, it seems clear that they both hope that Troy has gone "where the good dogs go." This is a great moment of healing for Cory, who never got to make peace with his father before the man died.