Fences is a play by August Wilson written in 1984, the sixth in Wilson's ten-part Pittsburgh Cycle (although the third to be written) documenting the history of Black America through the lens of Wilson's native Pittsburgh, PA.
It's the 1950s, and main character Troy Maxson used to play baseball, but now he's a garbageman along with his good friend Jim Bono. Troy has two sons, one from one mother and the other from another mother, his current wife Rose. However, what Rose doesn't know is that Troy's off having an affair with another woman named Alberta. Over the course of the play, tensions rise within the Maxson family as the physical fence around the house is slowly built up and metaphorical fences are quickly established between each of the family members and Troy himself.
The play premiered on Broadway in 1987, with James Earl Jones in the role of Troy. The play earned a ton of Tonys, including Jones' second for Best Leading Actor in a Play. Denzel Washington starred in a revival of the play in 2010, winning Tonys for Best Revival, Best Actor, and Best Actress (Viola Davis).
Washington and his cast reunited for a film adaption of the play released in 2016, which won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Davis.
See also The Piano Lesson, the fourth play in the Pittsburgh Cycle series.
Fences contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Troy's father, and, to some degree, Troy himself.
- An Aesop:
- The play teaches that times can change, and so do people, so you shouldn't hold grudges against people just because of what their ancestors did in the past.
- Troy's interactions with Cory also teaches that parents are people: they're still human beings capable of making mistakes like Troy, but that doesn't mean that they're bad people.
- Rose's decision to take care of Raynell teaches that children should never have to deal with the consequences of their fathers' sins.
- Always Someone Better: Cory assumes his father is scared of his son being better at sports than he is. Troy's dickish move is preventing his son from ever playing sports in the leagues because he doesn't want his son to have to deal with the stigma of racism like he did.
- Batter Up!: During the second-to-last scene, Cory tries to fend off Troy with his own bat. It doesn't work.
- Beta Couple: Bono and his wife Lucille.
- Betty and Veronica: Rose, Troy's wife of 18 years is the Betty, and his never-seen mistress Alberta is the Veronica. He ends up losing out on them both: Alberta dies giving birth to Troy's daughter Raynell, and Rose loses her trust in and respect for Troy after learning about the affair, though she's compassionate enough to take Raynell in and raise her as one of her own and her language suggests that she's trying hard not to judge the unseen Alberta. Rose even tells Troy that he's now "a womanless man."
- The Big Guy: Troy is very large and bases his identity on this.
- Broken Pedestal: In the end, Bono and Gabe are arguably the only ones that don't lose some sort of respect for Troy.
- Calling the Old Man Out: While he doesn't really call him out, Cory does come to physical confrontation with Troy. Twice. Once to help Rose and another when he's trying to pass him on the porch.
- Cloud Cuckoolander:
- Gabriel. The guy thinks he's the similarly named archangel. If YOU had part of your head blown off by a bomb in World War II, you'd be a little loopy too.
- Troy to some extent. Why, Death is a wrestler and they wrestled to death for three days.
- Daddy's Girl: Judging by Troy's first scene with an infant Raynell, he's an even more doting parent then he ever was to Cory and Lyons. The time skip and Raynell's nostalgic recollection of his song suggests he was at least a decent father to her.
- Death by Childbirth: How Alberta dies.
- Designated Hero: We're meant to believe Troy is the hero here, but he abuses his son, cheats on his wife, is a murderer, and took most of the money from his brother's injury and used it to buy the house that his broken family lives in.
- Distant Finale: The final scene takes place seven years after the rest of the play.
- Downer Ending: Troy dies a premature death from an unknown cause, Cory never gets to play collegiate football, Alberta dies by childbirth and Rose gets stuck raising her daughter, and Gabe is implied to still be stuck in an insane asylum.
- Exact Words: When Cory asks Troy why Troy doesn't seem to like him, Troy gives a big speech about how he doesn't have to like Cory, he simply has to take care of him because it's his duty. He never actually says he doesn't like Cory, he just can't bring himself to show that kind of affection. It contributes to Cory's resentment of Troy and their eventual estrangement.
- Freak Out: At the end of the play, Gabriel has one when he realizes that his trumpet doesn't work. It is noted in the play directions that a sane man would not be able to withstand the trauma.
- Freudian Excuse: Troy is extremely hard on Cory and constantly pushes him to get a job and an education instead of pursuing being a professional athlete like he did. The reason why is because when Troy tried to do so, African-Americans were not allowed in sports. A perfectly understandable position... if not for the fact that the times have changed and Cory would be treated much differently than Troy was.
- The Ghost:
- Alberta. She dies before we get to even see her.
- Bono's wife is always mentioned, but we never actually see her.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Troy.
- Hero Antagonist: It can be argued that Cory is the antagonist of the story, since he clashes with Troy the most throughout the story and they even have a final battle during the climax.
- The Hero Dies: Troy dies after a time skip at the end of the play.
- Heroic Dog: Troy sings about his dog Blue, who cared for him after he was beaten by his father.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: Troy would have been a professional baseball player, but he wasn't allowed due to his race. Though some characters do bring up that he was also already getting too old to play around that time anyway.
- Impairment Shot: In the movie when Troy faces down death after his fight with Cory, the camera shows a close-up of him with a blurry boarder showing how removed from reality he is at the moment.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Troy is a pretty unpleasant person towards his son, but it is implied that deep down he really does care for Cory. He just doesn't seem to know how to express it at all to the point of telling Cory that he doesn't have to like him to take care of him, making Cory think he really doesn't. Tragically, his inability to show any affection to Cory leads to a breaking point where Cory attempts to attack Troy with a bat and Troy kicks him out of the house, with the two never meeting again before Troy's death.
- Meaningful Funeral: Troy's funeral in the last scene.
- Meaningful Name: Troy, named after a city known for its walls.
- Minor Major Character: Raynell, Alberta's daughter. She makes an appearance towards the middle of the second act and gets speaking parts during the final scene, at age 7.
- Missing Mom: Troy's mother. Technically, Alberta is this to Raynell later on in the play.
- Parents as People: Parents as main characters, actually, in terms of Troy and Rose.
- Parental Abandonment:
- Bono's father left his family when Bono was only a child. Likewise, Troy's mother abandoned Troy to get away from his abusive father.
- After beating up his son, Troy's father basically disowns him.
- Poor Communication Kills: During Troy and Cory's first confrontation, when Cory asks Troy why he never liked him, even though they are father and son. Troy responds that he doesn't have to like him, but he still has to provide for Cory, being his father. Troy didn't say that he didn't love Cory and there's much evidence in the story that he does love his son deep down, but Cory understandably interprets Troy's comment otherwise.
- These Hands Have Killed: Part of the reason Troy was put into jail was because he killed someone. The rest of it was him stealing to provide for his family, and that was for a while.
- Tragic Hero: Troy Maxson.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Cory, to Troy. He eventually stops trying to impress Troy, but his explanation for why he doesn't want to attend Troy's funeral shows that he's still hasn't gotten rid of some of those feelings.
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- Troy, multiple times. First, by Cory for telling the football recruiter that Cory doesn't want to play college football, when it's very obvious that he does, then by Rose for cheating on her with Alberta, and finally a quiet one from Rose again for signing the papers to send his brother Gabe to the asylum, despite saying multiple times that Gabe should be free. This last part is made even worse when Cory reveals that Troy technically stole the house from Gabe.
- Cory also gets one from Rose when he says he doesn't want to attend Troy's funeral.
- Where Are They Now: The final scene. Note that "now" in the context of this play is used pretty loosely.