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Fences | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

On a Friday night two weeks later, Cory sneaks off to play football, with Rose's complicity. Troy and Bono come from work and make their way to the porch. Troy announces his promotion: he is to be the first African American sanitation driver.

Lyons shows up and Bono shares the news about Troy's promotion. Bono asks whether Rand knows Troy does not have a license. Troy says there is nothing to it. Lyons is ready to pay Troy back, but Troy tells him to forget it. Lyons insists, and Rose says Troy should accept the payment. Lyons ends up giving the money to Rose. Lyons invites Troy to come see him play music, but Troy declines, saying it is not for him.

Gabriel comes over. When Lyons asks what he has been up to, Gabriel says he has been chasing hellhounds and waiting for the time to tell St. Peter to open the gates. Gabriel remains convinced that Troy is angry with him. Troy continues to say he is not angry, although he doesn't understand why Gabriel went to live with Miss Pearl. Rose reasons that Gabriel needs to be able to come and go as he pleases. Troy says he already had this ability.

Rose tells Troy she wants him to sign Cory's recruitment papers so Cory can play football. Troy doesn't want to hear about it, but Lyons is excited to hear the news. Troy is angry Cory lied and says if he is going to disobey, he should move out.

Bono and Troy tell the stories of their fathers. Troy tells of a fight he had with his father and how he left home at age 14. Eventually, he made it to a city and met Lyons's mother. To support Lyons and his mother, Troy had to steal. One time he was robbing a man who shot him. Troy knifed him to death and got 15 years in prison, where he met Bono and learned to play baseball. By the time he got out he was done with stealing. He met Rose, and his only interests were Rose and baseball.

First Lyons leaves, after again inviting Troy to hear him play and Troy refuses; then Bono leaves. Cory comes home furious: according to his coach, Troy has forbidden Cory to play football or meet with the recruiter. Cory asks why he would take away his one chance. Troy says he did it because Cory lied, quit his job, and neglected his chores. Cory accuses Troy of being afraid he would do better than he did. Troy says, "That's strike one."

Analysis

With Troy's promotion Wilson subverts the audience's expectation that Troy would get fired for lodging a complaint. Instead, things seem to be going well for Troy. The promotion makes him the first African American driver. Although Troy is proud of the promotion, it does not impact his view of how things work. In spite of evidence that racial inequalities are sometimes corrected, Troy holds stubbornly to views shaped long ago, when he was an unloved child of a bitter father and then a desperately struggling young man.

Troy gets the promotion even though he does not have a driver's license. This information may give readers pause, as they wait for the other shoe to drop. Will Troy's promotion go through when his supervisors find out he can't drive? This detail provides another bit of dramatic tension, but it's another red herring. Wilson's aim is not to expose discrimination in society but rather to document the internal conflict of one man and show its ripple effect on his family.

The stories Troy and Bono share about their fathers serve to develop the play's motif of fathers and sons. Bono's father, who was "searching out the New Land," was not present at all. Because of his childhood struggles, Bono decided not to have children of his own. Troy's father stayed with his 11 children after his wife left, a decision Troy respects. But Troy says he did not treat his children properly and wonders why he bothered to stay; it wasn't out of compassion—his father, he says, "was the devil himself." Instead, he seemed to stay because, like most sharecroppers, he was trapped in a cycle of debt, which he and his children worked continually to pay off. Troy's criticism of his father's lack of feeling toward his children mirrors Cory's complaint about Troy. Unlike Bono, Troy has not learned from his father's mistakes.

As if to illustrate this point, Troy subtly rejects Lyons in two ways. First, Troy refuses Lyons's repayment of the earlier loan; by accepting the money, Troy would likely make Lyons feel responsible; but Troy refuses to make this gesture. Additionally, Troy again refuses Lyons's invitation to see him play at a club—another rejection of Lyons's life choices. Troy seems incapable of considering things from his son's perspective.

Cory accurately depicts Troy's unwillingness to meet the recruiter as limiting his opportunities. Cory sees his father's actions as those of a frightened old man with a threatened ego. Troy says he only wants to teach Cory responsibility. If Cory felt Troy cared about him beyond his basic needs, he might judge his father more favorably. Instead, Troy's intransigence only pushes Cory away. Troy's ominous declaration of "strike one" ensures a worsening conflict between father and son.

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