Most of Fences is set in the 1950s. There had been some progress made on race relations by this time, such as the integration of pro sports teams. However, on a whole, America had a really long way to go. Slavery has been gone from America for over seventy years, but its shadow still presses down on the country. All the characters in the play are African American, and they must deal with racism everyday. The South is still officially segregated and much of the North is unofficially. Keep in mind that the play takes place before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Fences shows what it was like in the decade before the movement caused such radical change in America. Some of the characters seem to sense that progress is in the air, while others are still trapped in America's troubled past.
Fences shows the way in which racial discrimination can place strain on African-American families.
Troy Maxson refuses to see that race relations have gotten better since he was young.
Fences is often thought of as a father-son play. The main conflict centers around the tension between Troy Maxson and his son Cory. The play shows how Troy in many ways repeats the mistakes of his own father while raising Cory. By the end, we're left with the hope that Cory will be able to break the cycle. Fences also questions what it is to be a man. Throughout the play we are forced to ask what it takes to be a good man. Is it duty to your family? Is it following your heart? Check out "Quotes" and see what you take from the play.
Troy's idea of manhood is based on the harsh example set by his father.
By the end of Fences, Cory is on the road to becoming his own man by taking the best of his father and leaving the negative qualities behind him.
Though there are only two actual deaths in Fences, mortality is a constant theme. Troy Maxson kicks it off by telling a story where he literally wrestled with Death and won. We get several monologues throughout the play where he taunts Death, almost daring Him to try and take him again. In the end, Death does take Troy, but we're left with the impression that Troy doesn't go down without a fight. Fences seems to view human mortality as both a dark inevitability and our ultimate chance for peace. When the gates of heaven open for Troy at the end of the play, we're left with the impression that he's found rest in the afterlife.
Troy's death allows his family, especially Cory, to heal.
Troy triumphs over Death because he never lets fear of it control his life.
Troy Maxson, the protagonist of Fences, has had his dreams taken from him. He wanted more than anything to be a pro baseball player, but his career was stopped because of racial discrimination. The central conflict of Fences centers around Troy's refusal to let his son Cory play football, which destroys Cory's chances of going to college. In this way, Fences explores how the damaged dreams of one generation can damage the dreams of the next. By the end of the play, Cory must find a way to form new dreams out the ashes of the ones he's lost.
Troy always wanted more than he could actually achieve, which left him a bitter man.
Bono never had dreams of his own, causing him to live vicariously through Troy.
Revolving around the trials and tribulations of the Maxson family, Fences is a great example of a family drama. We watch Troy struggle to fulfill his role as father to his son and husband to his wife. You could say that Troy doesn't do such a great job in either role; before his death, his family has all but disintegrated due of his failures. However, by the end of the play, we see that the family has also grown by his example. Fences depicts the complex dynamics that both tear families apart and hold them together.
Fences is the story of a family's disintegration and rebirth.
The play uses a family as a microcosm to explore larger issues.
Fences explores many different types of betrayal. Troy Maxson manages to betray just about everyone in his life: his son, his wife, his brother, and his best friend. Pretty much every character in the play is betrayed by Troy in some way. Of course, the play does go deeper than that. Though many of the characters are hurt by Troy's actions, the final scene shows that they also have respect for him. Perhaps they see that, in some ways, Troy never betrayed them in his heart. Troy never apologizes for anything he does in the play. It could be that this is why the other characters respect him by the end. Though they were all disappointed by the things he did, Troy always did what he thought was right. You could say then that Troy never once betrayed himself.
Troy betrays everyone in the play but himself.
In his own mind, Troy never betrays any of the other characters.
There's lots of discussion about duty in Fences. Most of this involves the duty of a father to his family. Troy Maxson, the play's protagonist, seems to think that a father's only real duty is to provide food and shelter. He doesn't think it's important for a father to show love to his son, and he doesn't feel his duties to his wife include fidelity. Troy has an affair, but doesn't believe it's necessarily wrong. He's provided for his wife and loves her, but his love now includes someone else. Though Troy fulfills his own idea of his duties to his family, others may question this. What do you think? What does a father and husband owe his family? What is he required to give?
Troy inherited his sense of familial duty from his father.
Troy doesn't feel any duty to love his children.
Dissatisfaction causes lots of trouble in Fences. The play's protagonist, Troy Maxson, is dissatisfied with his life. He's unhappy that his pro baseball dreams were stopped by racial discrimination. He feels trapped and unfulfilled in his job as a garbage collector. His son constantly disappoints him by not seeing the value of work. And even though he loves his wife, Troy finds a new love in another woman's arms. Fences explores how dissatisfaction can lead to behavior that destroys a person's life and the lives of those around them.
Even if Troy had gotten everything he wanted in life, he would still be dissatisfied, because dissatisfaction is just part of his nature.
Though it will be a struggle, Cory won't let the dissatisfaction of his father poison his own life.