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Fences | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Fences | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Fences how does Troy's time in prison affect him?

Leaving home at 14, Troy was alone in the city, with no education and only farm skills, so he stole to survive. During a robbery a man shot Troy, which led Troy to stab him to death. While in prison Troy met Bono and learned how to play baseball, which changed his life. It taught him about fair play and became a source of pride. When Troy came out he was ready to walk the straight and narrow. By this time, however, Lyons and his mother had moved away, and Troy was unable to play a role in his son's life.

In Fences why does Cory believe his father is holding him back by not meeting with the college football recruiter?

Cory thinks his father can't stand the idea of his own son surpassing him. He says to Troy, "You just scared I'm gonna be better than you, that's all." Troy says he is protecting his son: "The white man ain't gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway." He believes Troy should graduate from high school and work his way up at the grocery store or learn a trade. Although his idea is shortsighted, he does want better things for Cory. What Troy can't seem to understand is that through football Cory could do very well: "This way I'll be going to college. I'll get a chance ... " Cory may be right in thinking that his father's refusal to let him play football comes from a place of fear, but whether Troy fears Cory's success or his failure is unclear.

Why does Troy use baseball imagery to describe Cory's disrespect in Fences?

At the end of Act 1, Scene 4 Troy says Cory has earned his first strike, and Troy warns him not to strike out. This strike call comes after Cory accuses his father of wanting Cory to fail. Troy uses the baseball terminology because the sport is the one thing he truly loves. To Troy baseball is pure; playing by its rules he was able to shine, at least for a time. He truly respects the game. When baseball ultimately held him back, Troy was devastated. Yet Troy still worships the rules of the game, and baseball influences his thinking and behavior. He uses it to describe his feelings many times in the play. When Cory gets out of line, Troy is determined to keep him respectful and uses baseball terminology to warn Cory that he is on watch.

In Fences how does the beginning of Act 2, Scene 1, which finds Cory swinging a bat at the ball hanging from the tree, create dramatic irony?

At the end of Act 1, Scene 4 Troy and Cory have suffered a major breakdown in their relationship. Ironically, despite the anger he feels at his father, Cory is still trying to earn his father's approval. Neither Cory nor Troy recognize (or admit) what Lyons has recognized: "He's just busting at the seams trying to fill out your shoes." When Cory swings he is awkward and less sure than Troy. Like Lyons, Cory is his own person and cannot be his father. He will have to find his own path to manhood. Unfortunately, Troy sees Cory's pursuit of football as an attempt to follow his own failed path. His refusal to support Cory's dream ensures that their relationship will end disastrously.

In Fences, Act 2, Scene 1, what is the significance of Bono explaining Rose's desire for the fence?

Troy and Cory are angry at each other but are united in their agreement that there's no need for the fence. They both see the purpose of the fence as keeping people out. As Troy says, there's nothing inside anybody would want. Bono says, "Some people build fences ... to keep people in." He says Rose wants the fence to keep her family together because, "she loves you." Bono risks angering Troy by stating what should be painfully obvious. But he loves and respects Rose. By reminding Troy of Rose's love, Bono is pushing his friend to admit to the affair with Alberta. He ultimately gets Troy to take action.

In Fences, Act 2, Scene 1, what fundamental difference in the way Troy and Rose view family is revealed during Troy's confession?

Troy's ideas about family begin and end with responsibility. He mentions responsibility repeatedly when talking to his children, lectures Bono about it, and respects that his father, at least, recognized his own responsibility. Troy is ready and waiting to repair the roof if it leaks, but he cannot see the damage that his near complete focus on responsibility does to his family. At the same time he feels suffocated by the house and those inside it. With Alberta, Troy claims he can forget about his responsibility and explore a side of himself that he otherwise suppresses. Rose has a more expansive idea of family—one that includes not just responsibility but togetherness—symbolized by the fence. Rose's line, "You should have stayed in my bed," is her way of telling Troy he could have found release at home. He did not have to take on all the responsibility by himself, and together they would have found a way.

In Fences, Act 2, Scene 1, how does Troy's justification for his extramarital affair show his selfishness?

Troy eloquently describes his own motivations, but his inability to see or consider Rose's experiences reveals his selfishness. In his explanation of the affair, Troy says meeting Alberta made him want more after staying in the same place ("on first base") for so long. Troy complains about the feeling of stagnation that he has been feeling. But he does not consider Rose. She has been right next to him and doing all she can to provide for him in whatever way he needs. Like Troy she, too, has felt stuck but worked hard to "erase the doubt that you wasn't the finest man in the world." The very thing she tried to do to feel closer to Troy—gain intimacy "upstairs in that room" to suppress her doubts—is the thing he threw away.

In Fences why does Troy react so angrily when Rose says, "You take"?

After Troy confesses to having an affair in Act 2, Scene 1, Rose says "You take and don't even know nobody's giving!" Troy understands this to mean she thinks he doesn't give. This accusation cuts at Troy's pride. He believes that it is a man's ultimate responsibility to take care of his family. Even to his abusive father he gives credit for being responsible if nothing else. Troy feels he is slaving away in an unfulfilling job for one reason—to take care of his family. That is his responsibility. When he hears Rose saying he does not handle his responsibility, he loses control.

At the end of Fences, Act 2, Scene 1, what is the impact of Troy's calling strike two on Cory?

Troy calls strike two on his son after Cory hits his father. Cory intervened to stop Troy from threatening Rose, but his action heightens the tension in the play. When Troy warns Cory to stay away from him, the question isn't if Cory will strike out, but when. Cory and Rose are a package deal, as Rose herself says: "Maybe you want to wish me and my boy away?" Just as the relationship between Rose and Troy is forever damaged, the father-son relationship is on the verge of collapse, too. In cheating on Rose and threatening Cory twice, Troy has already struck out. Cory will again follow in his father's footsteps and strike out as well, breaking apart the family once and for all.

In Fences how is situational irony created by the fact that Troy signs the papers that send Gabriel to a home?

Troy signs some papers that result in Gabriel's being committed to a home. This is an example of situational irony for a couple of reasons. For one, Troy has long objected to putting Gabriel in an institution. "Let him be free," he says in Act 2, Scene 1. But the situational irony doesn't end there. Troy's apparent willingness to sign Gabriel's institutionalization papers contrasts with his unwillingness to sign Cory's recruitment papers. The signing of papers is a sore point in the play. Since the beginning of the play, Troy has avoided meeting with the college recruiter and signing the papers so that Cory could play college football. If Troy had consented, he would have removed a barrier to Cory's future success. Ironically, the papers Troy does end up signing have the opposite effect: placing a barrier around his brother. Situational irony is an occurrence that is the opposite of what is expected or appropriate; Troy signing Gabriel's papers instead of Cory's fits the bill.

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