August Wilson's Fences

Tragic Past Depicted in August Wilson's Fences

The past is an important player in the present and the future - even when we cannot see it. In fact, when we refuse to accept our past and deal with it constructively, it haunts us in ways that we cannot imagine because we have buried it. A play that illustrates this point is August Wilson's Fences. Troy Maxson is a man torn to pieces by his past but he refuses to deal with that fact and, as a result, it ruins any chances he has for a peaceful, happy present and future. Furthermore, Troy's inability to deal with his past creates conflict with his family. Troy destroys the relationship with his wife because he thinks there is more to life than marriage and he destroys his relationship with Cory because he refuses to believe that his son could be a success when he was a failure. Through a series of painful and complicated series of events, Wilson demonstrates how Troy is a victim and a victimizer. The title of the play becomes a metaphor for the chasm that exists between Troy and the people he loves. Troy's life is a tragic example of how we should not live. Wilson brings the past into perspective with Fences and demonstrates how the it plays an important part in the present and the future.

Troy is a victim and his past shapes his opinion, relationships, and future. He is a victim of circumstance in that he comes from a dysfunctional family. We know that his father did not care for his family in the least and Troy is still bitter about this. He tells Lyons and Bono that his father did not care for Troy and his siblings and all he wanted was for them to "learn how to walk so he could stat you to working. When it come time for eating...he ate first. If there was anything left over, that's what you got" (Wilson 1626). His father was the "devil himself" (1627) and this thought frightened Troy. To make maters worse, Troy did not have a mother figure in his life and, whether he realized it or not, this scarred him greatly. He had no positive role model from which he could learn. We see this destructive pattern in Troy's relationship with his wife, Rose. The broken family of Troy's past is an influence on his present life and attitudes.

Troy's disruptive past is seen immediately with Rose. While he stays married to her, he has no respect for her in a way that she deserves. He often chides her for her behavior but his greatest act of disrespect is his affair with Alberta. What makes this affair more reprehensible is how Troy justifies it. He Bono tells that he loves Rose and he knows that she is a "good woman" (1632) but despite that fact, Troy cannot "shake" (1632) Alberta loose. Even when he tells Rose that he is going to father another woman's child, he is cavalier about it, comparing it to a forest. He tells his wife that Alberta gives him a "different idea, a different understanding about problems" (1635). His nonchalant attitude toward an affair after being married for 18 years illustrates his inability to deal with his parents' broken relationship and how it affected him.

Cory becomes…