Study Guide

Fences Race

By August Wilson


Troy: "The n***** has a watermelon this big....Talking about...'What watermelon, Mr. Rand?'...Trying to hide that great big old watermelon under his coat. Afraid to let the white man see him carry it home." (1.1.5-1.1.7)

Here Wilson draws on an old stereotype of black people: that they love watermelon. This stereotype may have come from minstrel shows, a form of entertainment popular in early America. Very often in these shows black people were depicted as lazy, ignorant people who liked nothing better than to sing, dance, and eat watermelon all day. It could be that the coworker Troy is talking about was ashamed of confirming this stereotype by actually having a watermelon in his possession. Perhaps he lies about having the watermelon because he doesn't want to seem like a "typical" black person to his white boss, Mr. Rand. By using this stereotypical image, Wilson forces us to confront America's past and present struggle with racism.

Bono: "Well, as long as you got your complaint filed, they can't fire you. That's what one of them white fellows tell me." (1.1.12)

Notice how Bono sees a white person as an authority figure. Because a white person told him something was true, it is. Bono's comment represents the power that white people held in society during this time. Is this still true of modern American society? How have things changed?

Troy: "I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, 'Why? Why you got white mens driving and the colored lifting?'" (1.1.13)

Troy is ticked off about the racial inequality going on at his job as a garbage collector. The white men all get to drive the trucks, while the black men have to lift the cans and dump them in the back. This sort of segregation was typical of the time. Black men were often forced to do the manual labor.

Troy: "'You think only white fellows got sense enough to drive a truck. That ain't no paper job!'" (1.1.13)

Here, Troy is continuing to recount his fight with his boss, Mr. Rand. Troy is fighting for the higher position for himself and all other black workers in the sanitation department. It's interesting that, though Troy feels that blacks are good enough to be drivers, he assumes that they wouldn't be able to handle "paper" or office jobs. You could see this as an example of how racism is so entrenched that black people are a little racist against themselves. Perhaps Troy has bought into the stereotypes that society has forced upon him.

On the other hand, it may just be a practical observation. Many blacks weren't well educated during the time of the play. Troy himself can't read or write and wouldn't be able to do an office job. This, of course, is due to the poverty and racial inequality of America at the time, and is no way related to lack of potential. Either way you look at this comment by Troy, it's evidence of America's legacy of racial inequality.

Bono: "I thought only white folks had inside toilets and things." (1.1.56)

Bono tells us that he and his wife Lucille lived for six years in a crappy two-room apartment with only an outhouse in the back. He says he's not even sure why they stayed there so long. This quote seems to imply that he just assumed he couldn't do any better. Perhaps society had put him in a position where he felt he was doing as well as a black man could do.

Troy: "I'm talking about if you could play ball then they ought to have let you play. Don't care what color you were." (1.1.81)

Troy points out the blatant racism that kept him from a career in the major leagues. He was just as good, if not better, than many of the white players, and yet he didn't get a shot because of his color. Wilson seems to use the example of discrimination in the world baseball to represent the discrimination going on in America as a whole.

Troy: "A N**** go in there and can't get no kind of service. I seen a white fellow come in there and order a bowl of stew. Pope picked all the meat out the pot for him." (1.2.19)

You hear tales of racial inequality at restaurants all the time. Many of the early sit-ins were in protest of segregated lunch counters. What's interesting here is that Troy is accusing an African American, Pope, of discriminating against members of his own ethnicity.

Troy: "Got that boy...that Puerto Rican boy...Clemente. Don't even half-play him. . . ."
Cory: "He gets lots of chances to play." (1.3.58-1.3.59)

Troy tries to argue that baseball is still racially segregated. However, his arguments seem more and more flimsy in this interchange with Cory. It seems like times have changed a lot more than Troy is ready to admit.

Troy: "The white man ain't gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway." (1.3.78)

Troy refuses to see that things have changed since his hopes for a pro-sports career were destroyed. Though racial discrimination is still a huge problem in America during the '50s, things have gotten more equal, especially in the world of sports. Troy, however, is too stubborn and bitter to admit there's been some progress.

Bono: "[Troy's] gonna be the first colored driver. Ain't got to do nothing but sit up there and read the paper like them white fellows." (1.4.50)

It looks like Troy won his battle for equality. He may not have broken the race barrier in the world of professional baseball, but at least he has this small victory. This is often how racial barriers are broken down – one tiny step at a time.