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Literature Study GuidesFencesAct 1 Scene 1 Summary

Fences | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Fences | Act 1, Scene 1 | Summary



The play opens on a Friday evening as Troy, a powerfully built 53-year-old black man, and Jim Bono, his longtime friend, drink and banter on Troy's porch. Bono looks up to Troy, his coworker in the sanitation department.

The two friends are discussing Troy's recent meeting with their boss, Mr. Rand. Troy asks Rand why only white men serve as garbage truck drivers while the African American workers do the heavy lifting, and he has filed a complaint with the union. Bono worries that Troy will be fired for stirring up trouble, but Troy is unconcerned. The conversation shifts to a woman named Alberta who spends time at a bar where Troy and Bono hang out. Bono accuses Troy of chasing her, but Troy denies it.

Rose comes out on the porch. She and Troy reminisce about how they met. After discussing where to shop—Rose prefers the supermarket where prices are more reasonable, while Troy prefers the corner store where they know him and treat him well—they talk about their son, Cory.

Troy is happy Cory got a job at the A&P, where "he can start to look out for himself." Rose says Cory is being recruited to play college football; the recruiter wants to come to the house to talk to Troy. Troy has no faith in organized sports; he was a great ball player as a younger man, but never had a chance to play in the major leagues. Rose and Bono try to convince Troy things have changed. Troy wants Cory to give up on football and focus on more practical pursuits.

Troy, Rose, and Bono start talking about death. Troy tells a long story about a near-death experience he had due to pneumonia. He is no longer afraid of death because he's already faced it.

Lyons, Troy's 34-year-old son from a previous relationship, stops by. Troy says Lyons comes to visit only so he can get money. Lyons claims he can't get a decent job and won't consider manual labor. When Lyons talks about his music, Troy turns the topic to the time he bought furniture, on credit, from the devil. Lyons is not ready to give up on his dream and says that he and Troy are two different people. Rose gives Lyons the money, and he leaves. With Lyons gone Troy complains about his older son's lack of responsibility. As Bono leaves, Troy says he will be making love to his wife over the weekend.


Act 1, Scene 1 is one of several scenes set on a Friday night—payday. While work is a recurring motif of the play, the action takes place exclusively at home, during rare times of leisure. This first scene introduces most of the characters and foreshadows several conflicts.

Readers meet Troy Maxson, a big talker who enjoys telling stories. While his stories serve a purpose and are meant to teach lessons, he also stretches the truth and drops key details when it suits him. Troy and Bono have a close bond, and Bono looks up to Troy. He is happy to listen and swap stories with Troy even if he's heard them before. One of their first conversations, however, is about a woman, Alberta, who goes to the bar where they hang out. Bono has been observing Troy's actions and, in this case, does not approve. Troy claims he hardly knows Alberta but goes on to discuss her background, suggesting he actually knows her quite well. Bono's disapproval foreshadows a conflict in the play.

Readers also learn a bit about the relationship between Troy and his two sons. Lyons dreams of making it as a musician and Cory of going to college on a football scholarship. As a young man, Troy had big dreams about making it in baseball. While he had the skills to be a professional, he claims his path was blocked because of his skin color, his criminal record, and his age. This disappointment left an indelible mark on Troy's perception of the world. He cannot accept Lyons's choice of profession or the dream of his younger son, Cory.

Instead, Troy wants both of his sons to focus on practical things. He wants Lyons to get a job using his hands, and he wants Cory to work part time, finish school, and learn a trade. Although Lyons denies it, he clearly has come to take money from his father. While his dedication to his dream is admirable, it also makes him stubborn and impractical. He has no problems letting others do the grunt work while he pursues his passion. His experience mirrors Troy's later on, when Troy refuses to give up his relationship with Alberta. For Lyons, his unwillingness to relinquish his passion ultimately leads to his downfall, as he cashes bad checks to support himself and ends up in prison.

Cory's dream is attainable, yet Troy will not recognize that. He is blind to the changes that are taking place in society. On the other hand, Troy is far from passive about the discrimination that touches him personally. He despises the racist practices at his job and attempts to change them. But when it comes to his son, he has a blind spot; he can't see the point of striving for higher attainment. This conflict will deepen as the play progresses.

Another conflict in the play exists between Troy and Mr. Death. Troy talks as if death is a person who can be conquered. From his story recalling his bout with Mr. Death, the reader learns how hardheaded and determined Troy can be.

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