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Fences | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Fences | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Fences opens in 1957 with 53-year-old Troy Maxson and old friend Jim Bono drinking on Troy's porch—a Friday night ritual. The friends, both trash collectors, discuss their boss, Rand. That week Troy asked his boss why white men do the driving while the black men do the lifting. Bono asks about Alberta, a woman he has seen in Troy's company; Troy brushes off his friend's inquiries.

Troy's wife, Rose, enters. Troy and Rose discuss their son, Cory. College football recruiters want to talk to them about their son, but Troy shows no interest. As a young man Troy was a great baseball player, but he says segregation kept him out of the major leagues, an experience that has embittered him. Troy then recalls and reenacts a near-death experience he had while he was sick with pneumonia, a story he tells often.

Lyons, Troy's older son from a previous marriage, comes by to ask his father for money. After an exchange about responsibility and jobs, Troy ultimately gives Lyons the money.

In Act 1, Scene 2 Troy wants Cory's help building the fence he has promised his wife he would build. Rose tells him his son is at football practice. Troy's brother, Gabriel, appears. Because of a war injury to his head, Gabriel believes he is actually the Archangel Gabriel from the Bible. He recently moved out of Troy's house. He is proud of the move, but he thinks it upsets Troy. Troy used the money given to Gabriel for his war injury to pay for the house they have shared until now.

In Act 1, Scene 3 Cory comes home, and Troy rebukes him about falling behind on his chores. As they work on the fence together, Cory tells Troy he left his job to focus on football. Troy continues to refuse to meet with the football recruiter despite Cory's pleas, and he insists his son get another job. When Cory asks Troy why he doesn't like him, Troy talks about responsibility. After Cory leaves, Rose asks Troy why he will not allow his son to play football. Troy clearly doesn't trust the recruiter or understand that times have changed.

Act 1, Scene 4 takes place on the next Friday night, with Troy and Bono engaged in their weekend ritual. Troy tells Rose, Bono, and Lyons that Mr. Rand has made him the first black driver. Troy and Bono talk about their fathers and how they left home. Later, when Cory comes home, he is furious that Troy has forbidden the coach to let him play football or be recruited by a college team. The act ends after Cory insults Troy, who tells his son, "That's strike one."

As Act 2 opens, Troy has posted bail for Gabriel after the disabled veteran was arrested for disturbing the peace. Bono reminds Troy that Rose is a good woman, and Troy admits to having an affair with Alberta. He says he loves Rose but cannot end the affair. Troy confesses to Rose that Alberta is going to have his child. Troy tries to explain what the affair means to him, but Rose turns to walk away, accusing Troy of taking but never giving. Troy grabs her roughly, and Cory hits his father. Troy is ready to strike back, but Rose stops him. He calls strike two on Cory.

Act 2, Scene 2 occurs six months later. Alberta is about to have the baby. Troy has signed papers to have Gabriel institutionalized. Troy is now entitled to half of Gabriel's money every month. As Rose accuses Troy of selling out his brother, a phone call informs them Alberta has died in childbirth. The scene ends with Troy challenging Death, who has taken Alberta, to come to him. In Act 2, Scene 3 Troy brings home his infant daughter. Rose agrees to help Troy care for the baby but says she is finished with him.

Act 2, Scene 4 takes place on another Friday night a few weeks later. Lyons returns money he had borrowed from Troy. Bono, who has not visited for some time, stops by. The two also see each other less often at work since Troy's promotion; their connection has been lost. Cory comes home and tries to force his way past his father, who is drunk and singing on the steps. The two get in a verbal fight that turns physical. Troy throws Cory out of the house. As he leaves, Cory says he has no intention of coming back. Alone, Troy taunts Death again.

Act 2, Scene 5 takes place seven years later. It is the morning of Troy's funeral. Cory returns home after a long absence. He is in the Marines. Bono is there, and so is Lyons, who has been in prison for cashing other people's checks. When Cory tells Rose he is not going to the funeral, she objects, saying he must go in order to come to terms with his father, just as she is coming to peace with her husband. Raynell, Troy's daughter by Alberta, meets Cory, and they sing one of Troy's songs together. Gabriel comes in and tries to blow his trumpet so Troy can enter heaven. He starts to dance, and the gates of heaven open.

Fences Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Bono accuses Troy of having an affair with Alberta.

Rising Action

2 Troy insists Cory resume his job and quit the football team.

3 Troy gets a promotion and tells a story about his father.

4 Cory insults Troy, and they get into an argument.

5 Troy tells Rose about the affair and the pregnancy.

6 Troy grabs Rose, and Cory hits him.

7 Alberta dies during childbirth.

8 Rose agrees to take in Raynell but rejects Troy.


9 Troy picks a fight with Cory, throwing him out of the house.

Falling Action

10 Cory returns home after Troy's death.

11 Rose convinces Cory to attend the funeral.


12 Gabriel's music and dance open heaven's gates for Troy.

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