Fences | Study Guide

August Wilson

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Course Hero. "Fences Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fences/.


Course Hero, "Fences Study Guide," November 28, 2016, accessed September 25, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fences/.

Fences | Quotes


I ain't worried about death. I done seen him. I done wrestled with him.

Troy, Act 1, Scene 1

Troy is full of bombast. He talks as if he can take on anyone or anything, including death. His near-death experience with pneumonia has made him fearless. He personifies it as Mr. Death, an opponent he can wrestle with.

Troy's excessive confidence about facing the inevitable foreshadows his fate. Death will come for him, just as it does for everyone.


Life don't owe you nothing. You owe it to yourself.

Troy, Act 1, Scene 1

Troy is talking to his son Lyons, who comes to visit but also to borrow money. Lyons loves music and wants to make a career of it. He refuses to consider other jobs. Troy detests this attitude; he believes a man must be responsible and do whatever he can to care for his family. Spending your life expecting things to happen is irresponsible.


Liked you? Who the hell say I got to like you?

Troy, Act 1, Scene 3

Cory is annoyed with his father, whom he sees as hardheaded and cold. He thinks Troy dislikes him and asks him about it. The quotation is Troy's response, and it's followed by a lengthy lecture about his responsibility. It is his responsibility to clothe, house, and feed his son. Troy takes that responsibility seriously and works hard to fulfill that obligation. He wants to provide for his son so he can ultimately make a life for himself. But Troy does not allow himself to enjoy his relationship with his son. The stress of his responsibilities drives him to Alberta, with whom he can forget his responsibilities and simply enjoy himself.


Some build fences to keep people out ... other(s) build fences to keep people in.

Bono, Act 2, Scene 1

Troy does not understand why Rose insists he and Cory build a fence together around the house. Bono, however, can see Rose's plan.

The fence can keep people out just as Troy does with his family. He recognizes his responsibility to care for them materially but not emotionally. The fence also symbolizes the line Troy has drawn between himself and Mr. Death.

Rose, however, wants the family to stay together and support each other on a deeper level. She encourages Troy to meet with the football recruiter for Cory. She pushes Troy to lend money to Lyons. She wants more from Troy than his paycheck. In addition, by building the fence together, Troy and Cory can spend time together and foster their bond.


Locked myself into a pattern trying to take care of you all ... forgot about myself.

Troy, Act 2, Scene 1

Troy opens up when he confesses his affair to Rose. He takes full responsibility for his behavior and praises Rose. When Rose says that Troy should have stayed in her bed, it is not merely a reference to the physical. As Troy now realizes, he should have allowed himself to be loved, rather than seeing love merely as a responsibility. Troy recognizes that he created a fence around his own emotions and that his concern for the practical led him to ignore everything else.


I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams ... buried them inside you.

Rose, Act 2, Scene 1

When Troy confesses his affair with Alberta, Rose reveals her feelings. While Troy put away his dreams, Rose put hers in Troy. She would support and love him in the hope that her love would lift him up and they could be happy. Rose let her life revolve around Troy. She was at his mercy and was willing to do all she could for him because that is what she felt a wife should do for a husband. Like Troy she now realizes she needs more for herself.


You can't visit the sins of the father upon the child.

Rose, Act 2, Scene 3

Rose makes this biblical allusion when Troy comes to Rose in need. With Alberta gone he is the parent and caregiver for the baby (Raynell), and he needs Rose's help. Rose agrees to care for the child as if it were her own.

There are a number of complicated father-son relationships in the play. Both Troy and Bono go into detail about their challenging experiences growing up with their fathers. Troy takes responsibility for his children, Cory and Lyons, but he doesn't support their dreams of pursuing sports or music. This is not out of indifference; he simply doesn't want them to experience the hardship and rejection he faced as an African American. On the other hand Rose recognizes things can change, and it is up to the individual to make change happen.


You got to take the crooked with the straights. That's what Papa used to say.

Lyons, Act 2, Scene 5

Lyons is quoting Troy with these words. It is said after Troy has passed and seems to indicate that Lyons has learned this lesson from his father.

The phrase refers to accepting the bad with the good. Nothing is going to be easy, including life. Troy found a way despite challenges, including his poor relationship with his father, not being allowed to play in the major leagues, Alberta's death, and losing Rose.


One time in my life I've got to say no.

Cory, Act 2, Scene 5

Cory has returned after years away from home. After a fight with his father, which leads Troy to throw him out of the house, Cory eventually joins the U.S. Marines. He has made a decent life for himself. He returns home when Troy dies, but he does not plan to attend his father's funeral. Cory feels the urge to be defiant now, since he was never able to stand up to Troy when he was alive. It is Cory's way of stepping out of Troy's shadow, which he felt dominated the house.

Rose says this is not the time or place to do such a thing. For all his faults, Troy meant well and had more good than bad in him. Rose insists that Cory go to Troy's funeral because Troy will always be a part of him.


You ready, Troy. I'm gonna tell St. Peter to open the gates.

Gabriel, Act 2, Scene 5

This is the moment Gabriel has been waiting for: the chance to act the part of the angel and get his brother into heaven. Despite all Gabriel lost because of the war, he was able to help his brother get a home and now he will help Troy get to his final resting place. Gabriel represents perseverance, as he finds a way to get things done. Unlike Troy, he has a more positive outlook on life and is content with simple things. He is not held back by challenges and has the will to move forward despite all obstacles.

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