Symbolism in Fences by August Wilson

Symbolism in Fences by August Wilson

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August Wilson uses the symbol of a 'fence' in his play, Fences, in numerous occasions. Three of the most important occasions fences are symbolized are by protection, Rose Maxson and Troy Maxson's relationship, and Troy against Mr. Death. Throughout the play, characters create 'fences' symbolically and physically to be protected or to protect. Examples such as Rose protecting herself from Troy and Troy protecting himself form Death. This play focuses on the symbol of a fence which helps readers receive a better understanding of these events. The characters' lives mentioned change around the fence building project which serves as both a literal and a figurative symbol, representing the relationships that bond and break in the backyard.

Throughout the play the reader sees how 'fences' are used to protect the characters mentioned. Early on, Rose protects herself by singing, 'Jesus, be a fence all around me every day. Jesus, I want you to protect me as I travel on my way' (Wilson 21). By Rose signing this song, one can see Rose's desire for protection. To Rose, a fence is a symbol of her love. Her longing for a fence signifies that Rose represents love and nurturing within a safe environment. However Troy and Cory think the fence is a burden and reluctantly work on finishing Rose's project. Bono indicates to Troy that Rose wants the fence built to protect her loved ones as he says, 'Some people build fences to keep people out' and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you? (61). While reminiscing about the 'project', Bono asks Troy why he 'got to go and get some hard wood' (60) as he says, "Nigger, why you got to go and get some hard wood? You ain't doing nothing but building a little old fence. Get you some soft pine wood. That's all you need" (60). Troy choosing to use hard wood instead of soft pine wood shows the reader that Troy wants hard wood to protect him harder from Death and all of his problems. Although each character in the play interprets the concept of a fence differently, they all see it as some form of protection.

Another occasion where fences are symbolized in the play is by Rose and Troy?s relationship. One of the most major ways Troy and Rose?s relationship is symbolized is by the cakes Rose makes for the church.

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Rose, angered but calm about Troy's lack of commitment, says, "And don't be eating the rest of them cakes in there" (82). The cakes symbolize a fence between Rose and Troy Rose relates the cakes to herself how Troy cannot touch the cakes or Rose, herself. Troy's lack of commitment to finishing the fence parallels his lack of commitment in his marriage. After Troy's betrayal, his relationships with Rose and Bono begin to weaken. Troy coming home and Rose saying that his dinner is "in there on the stove" (82) shows the reader how Troy's mistake will not just go away like all the rest. This quote tells one how much this problem means to Rose as she will not have any connection with Troy. Rose, turning to the church and away from Troy, tells him that there "ain't no use studying her" (82), and makes it clear he is now a "womanless man" (79) due to his own faults. Rose and Troy's relationship throughout the play wakens and strengthens but with Troy crossing the line by cheating on Rose, a permanent fence is built between that Troy cannot break.

Throughout the play, Troy has this image of Death and his understanding symbolizes and forms a fence between him and Mr. Death. While talking about Death, Troy mentions on how he met him and has no fear of Death as he says, "Death ain't nothing. I done seen him. Done wrassled with him. You can't tell me nothing about Death. Death ain?t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner" (10). This passage in which Troy says is one of the most important quotes in the book. The quote tells the reader how Troy says he can engage anything that approaches at him. Troy has another encounter with Death when Alberta dies during labor and right then he decides he is going finish the fence as he says, "Alright" Mr. Death. See now? I'm gonna tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I'm gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side." (77). One can see that Troy finally builds the fence only for his selfish character. If Rose wants the fence built he finds it a useless chore, but when Alberta dies he stops his life and builds the fence. Troy only builds to keep Death out and away from him, not because Rose requests it built. After Troy throws Cory out of his house because he says Cory "got the devil in him" (87), he starts to taunt Death. Troy sets up a batting stance and begins to tease Death as he says, "Come on! It's between you and me now! Come on! Anytime you want! Come on! I be ready for you... but I ain't gonna be easy" (89). This quote shows that Troy is somewhat feared of Death because he wants to get rid of everything Death related, even his own son. Troy against Mr. Death continues to reinforce by Troy continuing to rid his life of all Death and is always on the defense but at the end of the play goes on offense but is defeated but smiles on the way down and in his eyes, he is not defeated but victorious.

August Wilson develops the symbol of a fence as a literary tool to help paint images in the reader's mind in his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Fences. Characters are protected mentally and physically by the depiction of fences. Troy has a mental image of Death and his relationship with Mr. Death and continues to grow. Troy's relationship with Rose also develops, however with his betrayal it formulates into an unforgiveable sin. As one reads this play, the reader can see the characters come to life. The various symbols of a fence portrayed by Wilson combine with his cultural descriptions to create a colorful and memorable experience for the reader.

Works Cited:

Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume/New American Library, 1986.

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