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Fences | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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For what purpose does Fences, Act 1, Scene 1 begin with Troy and Bono discussing Brownie, a seemingly irrelevant character?

Brownie is an object of ridicule for both Troy and Bono. The story Troy tells about him helps set a light, bantering tone for the scene. Brownie also serves as a contrast to Troy. Brownie worries about what his boss will think of him and ends up looking foolish as a result. Troy says Brownie was "afraid to let a white man see him carry [a watermelon] home." Troy and Bono do not object to Brownie having a watermelon; they object to the fear that causes him to hide it—his fear of being seen as a stereotype. "I ain't got time for them kind of people," says Bono. Instead, he looks up to Troy. By juxtaposing Brownie's foolishness with Troy's forthrightness in confronting his boss about discrimination, Wilson shows what Bono sees in Troy: a proud, self-assured man.

What is the significance of having so much of the action in Fences take place on Friday nights?

Much of the action in Fences takes place on Friday night, the evening of payday. Troy and Bono have a ritual of drinking and talking on Friday night. The play's narrative unfolds through the conversations of these characters and those joining them, including Rose and Lyons. Friday night is when Troy is free from work, has some money in his pocket, and is most open. He waxes on about his philosophy and tells stories. In addition, having the same setting at multiple points in the play allows the reader to see clearly how things change from the beginning of the play.

What does Troy's complaint to Mr. Rand say about his character and about the time in which Fences is set?

Troy is a garbage man; his job is to heave the trash into the truck. He asks his boss why the black men heave trash and the white men drive the trucks. With this question, Troy shows a willingness to confront injustice head on: "All I want them to do is change the job description. Give everybody a chance." Like many African Americans during this time, the late 1950s, Troy is pushing for equality. The civil rights movement is spreading across the nation, and change is beginning to come. Troy considers himself responsible for his family above all, so it's somewhat surprising that he would risk a steady job by antagonizing the powers that be. His willingness to do so shows he is aware that the time is right; however, he can't see the possibilities of these positive changes for his son Cory. The bitterness of his past experience with segregation in sports, which he believes kept him out of the major leagues, prevents him from supporting his son's bid for a college football scholarship.

What is Bono's role in Fences, and how does he reveal it in Act 1, Scene 1?

The setting description before the dialogue in Act 1, Scene 1 explains that Bono admires and looks up to Troy. Wilson says Bono is the follower and Troy is the leader, but that's not always the case. In Act 1, Scene 1 Bono brings up Alberta. While he does not accuse Troy of having an affair outright, he voices his concern. Bono has observed Troy and questions his behavior because he does not want to see Troy ruin his marriage to Rose. Bono's relationship with Troy rises and falls on the same trajectory as Troy's relationship with Rose and Cory. Bono is more sensitive and considerate of others than is Troy, and when Troy destroys his marriage, their friendship suffers.

In Fences, Act 1 how does August Wilson hint at trouble in Troy's marriage to Rose?

Troy's behavior toward Rose can be pretty boorish. Although Rose joins in the Friday night conversations, it's obvious that Troy's many sexual innuendos irritate her. She and Troy often disagree about other things as well. The topics of their disagreements include where to shop, whether to play the lottery, whether to lend Lyons money, whether to put Gabriel in a home, meeting the college recruiter for Cory, and talking about death, and the reason Troy never played in the major leagues. The only time Troy and Rose seem happy is when they are reminiscing about when they met. They enjoy telling the story, even if they have different versions. Even without Bono's suggestion that Troy is having an extramarital affair, the marriage seems less than ideal.

In Fences what kept Troy from playing in the major leagues, and how has that affected his outlook on life?

Troy apparently was a very talented baseball player. He had the ability to make it to the major leagues, and in Troy's telling, only the color of his skin prevented him. In fact Rose claims that by the time Troy got out of prison he was simply too old for the major leagues. Whatever the case, Troy feels let down by the game he loved. For Troy baseball has become a symbol of the barriers that hold people back. He refuses to let Cory play football because of his feelings toward sports: "Not after what they did to me in the sports." Cory, however, sees things differently. He believes Troy, in his bitterness, fears Cory will surpass him, as Cory points out: "You just scared I'm gonna be better than you, that's all." Whatever kept Troy out of the major leagues, the legacy of that disappointment causes a key conflict in the play.

In Fences why does Troy personify death, and what role does Mr. Death play?

Troy likes to tell stories that captivate his audience. By characterizing his struggle with pneumonia as a bout with an opponent named Mr. Death, he turns a story about a man lying sick in bed into an action-packed brawl, in which he is the victor. His storytelling style shows that Troy has a high opinion of himself. But Troy talks to Mr. Death even when he has no audience, indicating that the character is more than a favorite storytelling device. For Troy, Death seems to be his only truly worthy opponent. He speaks to Mr. Death at the end of a number of scenes. He taunts Death as if he wants a challenge. This proud, competitive man sees Death as the ultimate challenge, and he wants to test himself against the best. This is an opportunity that he never got in baseball.

In Fences, Act 1, Scene 1, why is Troy reluctant to lend Lyons money?

Troy is a practical person. When professional baseball did not work out, he gave up on dreams to focus on his life with Rose. Lyons, his first son from a previous relationship, is a struggling 34-year-old musician. Although he gets gigs and has some talent, he doesn't make a living. He has not, however, given up on his dream to make a career of his music. As a result he relies on his wife and Troy for support. Troy sees Lyon's pursuit of his dreams as a waste of time. Lyons defends his choice, saying he needs music to feel alive and noting that he and Troy are different people. Later, however, when Troy explains why he risked his marriage for an affair, he sounds a lot like his older son: the affair, he says, makes him feel daring and alive.

What type of fence does Rose sing about in Fences, Act 1, Scene 2?

Rose is by herself at the beginning of Act 1, Scene 2. She sings a song that asks Jesus to be a fence around her that will protect her every day. In the hymn the fence is a metaphor for Jesus's protection. Rose treasures her home life and prays for things to stay as they are. But she doesn't just sing about metaphorical fences—she wants Troy and Cory to build an actual fence around their yard. Rose recognizes that trouble is brewing within the home, specifically between Troy and Cory over the college recruiter. She may believe that building a fence will protect the family and also give father and son a shared activity.

In Fences, Act 1, Scene 2, why is Troy against "playing the numbers"?

While Rose enjoys taking a small risk by playing the numbers, an illegal lottery common in many poor neighborhoods, Troy views it as irresponsible and a waste of money. He believes that African Americans would be better off spending their money more wisely. When Rose brings up a neighbor who won big and has done well for himself, Troy almost concedes the point, although he claims the man has become insufferable. Troy proves the hypocrisy of his objection to gambling when he later justifies his affair with Alberta: he compares taking a mistress to stealing second base, a gamble that paid off.

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