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Fences | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Fences | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


What is Gabriel's role in Fences, and how does his first visit in Act 1, Scene 2 foreshadow the end of the play?

Gabriel, who was injured in World War II, believes that he is the Archangel Gabriel. The Archangel Gabriel of the Bible is one of God's chief messengers and is sometimes regarded as the angel of death. He will blow his trumpet to announce the second coming. In the play Gabriel believes that he already died and went to heaven, where he spent time with St. Peter—who according to the Bible holds the keys to heaven's gate. In Act 1, Scene 2 Gabriel says that one day, when St. Peter had his book open (the book of life, from Revelations), "marking it up for the judgment," he saw Troy's name. He hastens to add that Rose's name is there, too—he's sure of it, because everyone's name is in there. But evoking the image of Troy's name in St. Peter's book suggests that death, and judgment, will come sooner for Troy than for other characters in the play.

What role does guilt play in Troy's attitude toward Gabriel in Fences?

Troy respects that Gabriel fought in the war. He feels bad that his brother has suffered, and he does what he can to help. Troy also supports Gabriel's being free rather than being locked away in an institution, where Rose thinks he would be safer. Despite his severe brain injury, Gabriel can sense that Troy has a problem with him. Troy does harbor resentment toward his brother, accompanied by guilt and shame. Troy's pride is wounded by the fact that his home's down payment came from a $3,000 payment Gabriel received immediately after his injury. Troy couldn't afford the home otherwise, though he works as hard as he can. Troy resents the fact that his brother moved out, taking his monthly disability pay with him and making it more difficult for Troy and Rose to pay the bills. And, of course, Troy feels guilty for feeling resentful—his brother, after all, paid a terrible price for his financial freedom.

How does Rose act as an intermediary between Troy and Cory in Fences?

Rose mediates between Troy and Cory throughout the play. From Cory's first appearance in Act 1, Scene 3, it is clear that he is more at ease with his mother than with Troy. It is Rose whom he tells about the recruiter. Cory also asks Rose to talk to Troy since he suspects (correctly) that his father will not want to meet the recruiter. She does her best to persuade Troy to let Cory continue with football, encouraging him to meet with the recruiter so Cory can go to college. When Cory comes home late, she warns him Troy has been looking for him and is not happy. Rose is fully aware that Cory sneaks out to play football. Rose tries to soothe the tensions between her son and her husband. In Act 2, Scene 1 she throws herself on Troy to keep him from striking Cory. In Act 2, Scene 4 Rose isn't there to stop their relationship from blowing up. While the relationship between father and son fails during his lifetime, some connection is reestablished with Troy's death—again, thanks for Rose's mediation in Act 2, Scene 5.

In Fences, Act 1, Scene 3, how does Troy and Cory's discussion about buying a TV reveal their different philosophies about life?

When Cory suggests buying a television so they can watch baseball, Troy talks about responsibility. While Troy enjoys baseball, he is concerned about practical matters like tarring the roof, which he notes would cost as much as a television. After his speech about responsibility and priorities, Troy asks Cory what he would do. Cory's response: buy the television and worry about the roof when something happens. Cory's views are shortsighted—seize the day and don't worry about tomorrow—though typical for a young person. Troy's concerns for his house and his budget show the long-term thinking of a responsible adult. To his son, Troy seems to be all work and no play. Of course that's not really the truth. But when the very real pressures of life weigh on him, he goes outside the home for relief. Instead of slouching in front of the TV with his son, he escapes his pressures by having an affair with Alberta.

In Fences, Act 1, Scene 3, how does Cory get the better of Troy in their discussion about baseball?

The first player to come up in the conversation between Troy and Cory is Roberto Clemente, an outfielder for their hometown Pirates. Troy believes Clemente could be a good player if given the chance, but because he is Puerto Rican he spends a lot of time on the bench. Cory's arguments—he has gotten chances and there are also white players on the bench—logically refute Troy's points. As the conversation progresses with more players mentioned, Cory continues to use logic while Troy turns to illogical and emotional reasoning. Troy eventually gives up and ends the conversation. When Cory sticks to the facts and refuses to back down, Troy has no answers.

In Fences in what ways are Troy's reasons for not meeting with the college recruiter legitimate or illegitimate?

Troy might have some fairly solid reasons for not meeting with the recruiter, though many parents would call those reasons shortsighted: Cory is not working at the A&P as agreed (though he has arranged to come back after football season) and has not been keeping up with his chores. But Troy has deeper reasons for not meeting the recruiter. Troy believes that "the white man" robbed him of his chance to have a career in baseball, and he doesn't want Cory to put his faith in sports. Troy does not see that the world is changing. African Americans, particularly in sports, had made great strides. Furthermore, Cory sees football as an avenue to college. Troy claims he is trying to protect his son from the kind of heartbreak that he himself went through. While he means well, he is harming his son's chances for a better future.

In Fences in what ways does Troy like or dislike Cory?

Cory is furious that Troy will not meet with the recruiter. He cannot imagine that Troy would shatter his dream if he actually liked him. And When Cory asks why his father doesn't like him, Troy doesn't answer directly. Instead, he talks about responsibility. Troy is trying to teach his son how to make his way in the world as best he knows how. By trying to share his wisdom and shield him from harm, Troy seems to want the best for him. To Troy that means making sure that others are "doing right by you." Troy equates his relationship with his boss—a purely transactional relationship—to Cory's relationship with him. But by refusing to express the affection Cory craves, he all but admits he doesn't "like" his son. Instead, he widens the gulf between the two of them.

In Fences how is situational irony created in Troy's claim that he does not want his son to be like him?

When Rose tells Troy that Cory is trying to be like him, Troy reacts angrily. He says, "I want him to move as far away from my life as he can get." This is situational irony because Troy's actions are putting Cory on a path parallel to his own. The tension between the two of them is growing and will ultimately lead to a physical confrontation, with the son forced to leave the father's home, just as Troy left his father's home. In addition Troy's refusal to sign the papers means no college for Cory. This threatens to limit Cory professionally; he could easily end up in a job like Troy's. It seems the more a Maxson son tries to suppress his fathers' influence, the more like his father he becomes. Just before Cory leaves for good, Troy says, "You've got the devil in you." The devil was also in Troy's father—in fact he says his father was the devil. And in Act 1, Scene 4 Troy says he knew he was independent when he could feel his father "kicking in his blood." These words echo in Act 2, Scene 5 when Cory tells Rose he always felt oppressed by his father's shadow. She responds, "That shadow was nothing but you growing into yourself."

In August Wilson's Fences, how does Troy's promotion affect him?

At first Troy's promotion puts him in a great mood—he teases Rose and sings a song about an old dog. He seems to take as much pleasure in surprising all the naysayers at work, who were sure he would get fired, as he does in the promotion itself. With the promotion Troy becomes the city's first African American driver. African Americans in general and Troy in particular are making progress. Despite his success he still sees only limitations for his son. He doesn't budge in his refusal to let his son pursue football. Later when Troy has been driving the truck for six months, it's clear that he misses the camaraderie of working on the back of the truck with Bono. Now he sits alone in the driver's seat, on a different route from his old friend. He and Bono have become estranged, and Troy is increasingly isolated.

In Fences, Act 1, Scene 4, what effect does Troy's story about his father have on Lyons?

When Troy and Bono share the stories of their fathers (and their backgrounds in general), Lyons, as well as the audience, learn about the black experience. At first Lyons has a hard time understanding why Troy's father put up with the oppressive working conditions of a sharecropper. Troy makes him understand how family responsibility, as well as lack of opportunities, limited his father's choices. Lyons also learns how much his father suffered in his early years, going out on his own at age 14. Learning about his grandfather and Troy's background helps Lyons understand the history of his people in general and his family in particular. The information seems to give Lyons a new appreciation for Troy; after Troy tells the story, Lyons feels a greater connection to his father and again invites him to hear him play music. Bono is impressed by Lyons's accomplishment, saying "You got to be good to play down at the Grill," but Troy is unimpressed and once again declines, missing an opportunity to bond with his son. This rejection, following Troy's story about his own father's callousness, is an example of situational irony. It also reinforces the theme about emotional suppression passing from generation to generation.

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