Literature Study GuidesFencesAct 1 Scene 2 Summary

Fences | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Fences | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary



The next morning while hanging laundry, Rose sings a song about Jesus building a fence around her for protection. Troy comes to her, and they discuss the numbers, an informal lottery, which Troy disapproves of. He thinks it is a waste of money. When Rose tells her husband Cory is not home, he is annoyed. Troy wants Cory to help him with the fence he has promised to build for Rose, and says, "That boy scared of work." Rose defends him and says Troy is grumpy because he is worried about losing his job.

Gabriel has arrived for a visit, singing about plums. He thinks Troy is mad at him because he recently moved out of the family house and in to Miss Pearl's. Gabriel is proud of his independence, and Troy swears he is not angry. While Rose makes the brothers biscuits, Gabriel tells Troy he saw Troy's name in St. Peter's book. Gabriel leaves before breakfast and sings about judgement.

Rose is concerned about Gabriel; she says he is not eating right. Troy takes this to mean that she believes he should be placed in an institution, but Troy disagrees. He goes on to relate how Gabriel got half his head blown off in Japan and for that the government gave him just $3,000. Troy used the money to buy the house that, until now, they shared with Gabriel. Although he feels guilty about this and upset, it is the only way he could get a house, and Rose says he did the right thing. At the end of Act 1, Scene 2, Troy says he is going to a bar to watch a ballgame. Rose says he has been going out every Saturday for a while and questions the progress of the fence.


In Rose's hymn to Jesus, she asks him to be a "fence around me every day." The fence is a symbol of protection and of family unity, but for Troy, as readers will learn, the fence can also represent a cage.

The numbers offer a chance and hope to Rose. Troy, on the other hand, sees gambling as foolish. For him life is about working hard and taking responsibility. Taking risks is a waste of time and leads to nothing. Later scenes will reveal the situational irony here: Troy takes the biggest chance of all by secretly having an affair.

When Rose says Troy is worried about losing his job, she probably echoes the audience's concern. Troy's conflict with his supervisor creates dramatic tension, but it's also a red herring—a clue that leads nowhere. The conflict threatening to destroy Troy comes not from outside but from within himself and his family.

Living in a house purchased with Gabriel's disability pay makes Troy feel ashamed. In spite of his hard work, the only way he is able to provide a roof over his family's head is through his brother's disability check. While purchasing the house with the money is the right thing to do for all of them, Troy's pride takes a hit.

In spite of Gabriel's brain injury, he seems to see many things clearly. He is aware of Troy's shame and resentment. He also claims that he has seen Troy's name in St. Peter's book of judgment—a detail meant to comfort Troy but also an unsettling foreshadowing of his death.

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