Troy Maxson, the main character in August Wilson’s critically acclaimed play Fences, talks about his father who was never there for him when he was a kid. Born in the southern United States, where African- Americans were racially discriminated during the time, Troy’s father was evil and tortured him. He feels that he has been really supportive for his kids and he is what his father had never been to him. Troy grew up with a father who thought putting food on the table and roof over the head was the only thing a father has to do for his family. Despite Troy’s attempt to be unlike his father, his style of talking to the kids and ordering them to respect him makes him exactly like his father. Fences, is not necessarily about how history repeats itself, but also how a person’s past influences their life and decisions.
Troy’s father didn’t support the family like a normal father did. His father, Maxson Sr. was there only to support his family basic needs; food on the table and roof over their heads. His father was never there for him or his family. Troy talks about his father being evil because of which nobody could withstand him and also his mother leaving him when he was young because of his father’s evilness. He says:
My mama couldn’t stand him. Couldn’t stand that evilness. She ran off when I was eight. She sneaked off one night after he had gone to sleep. Told me she was coming back for me. I ain’t never seen her no more. All his women run off and left him. He wasn’t good for nobody. (1.4.109)
His father was not good enough for everybody and whoever was with him they would only last for few days and after that they left because Troy thinks Maxson Sr. was evil which is also the main reason why Troy feels his mother left him and Troy when Troy was a young kid. Having a father who was unable to care for his son, Troy instantly realizes that he has to mature hurriedly so he can take care of himself.
At a mere age of fourteen, Troy finds himself becoming a man from a child. He realizes he has metamorphosed into a man from a kid when he and Maxson Sr. get into a fight. When his father finds him flirting with a girl when he was supposed to be working, they have a real go at each other. Troy describes the moment as,
He had them letter straps off the mule and commenced to whupping me like there was no tomorrow. I jumped up, mad and embarrassed. I was scared of my daddy. But I see where he was chasing me off so he could have the gal for himself…When I see what the matter of it was, I lost all fear of my daddy. Right there is where I become a man…at fourteen years of age. Now it was my turn to run him off… I picked up them reins and commenced to whupping on him. (1.4.109)
When Troy whips his father with the leather straps he realizes he has transformed into a man. He feels showing his father that he didn’t fear him was good enough to survive in the world by own self. Since that incident with his father, Troy associates adulthood as being strong enough to stand up for own self. He feels he has learnt that fighting with his father was the only way to prove him that he had grown up and could take care of himself.
Troy thinks that he has freed himself from his father evil influence, reviews his past and tries to learn from his father’s mistake. Since his father was irresponsible for him, Troy is inclined to be a father unlike his father in each and every way possible but unfortunately that doesn’t work out. He turns exactly like his father. He doesn’t support his sons Lyons and Cory at all. He is vile to both of his sons but Cory, his youngest son whose dream is to become a football superstar, gets affected and pays the price badly when his father shatters his dream by not letting him play. Since he and Troy don’t get along, Cory feels isolated. Even when he asks Troy why he didn’t like him, Troy responds:
Liked you? Who the hell say I got to like you? What law is there say I got to like you? Wanna stand up in my face and ask a damn fool-ass question like that. Talking about liking somebody…I go out of here every morning…bust my butt…putting up them crackers every day… ’cause I like you?… It’s my job. It’s my responsibility! … A man got to take care of his family… ‘Cause it’s my duty to take care of you. I owe a responsibility to you! (1.3.91 and 107)
Troy lets Cory know that what it takes to become a “man”. The “man” Troy is referring to is himself and he explains Cory that in order to become the “man” one has to be responsible. That person has to be able to put food on the table for his family. He also lets Cory know that one doesn’t have to love his family to take care of them. The duties and responsibilities bind a man and his family which keep them together. Duty to take care of the family was what Maxson Sr. did and Troy is following the exact footstep of his father.
Troy, as a father, spent most of his time with Cory. He was in jail when his eldest son Lyons was born. The relationship between Cory and Troy seems to be futile; every time they are together they end up in an argument. Cory feels his father doesn’t love him at all. His feeling about his father detesting him grows even stronger when his father doesn’t let him play football. Cory, in order to achieve his dream, quits his job at A&P grocery store so that he can play football. He disobeys his father by quitting his job when Troy had strictly told him to quit playing football and look for a steady job. Troy was discriminated when he was young for playing baseball and thinks his son fate will also be the same like him.
But he doesn’t realize that times have changed and at the same time he is arrogant as well. Cory ends up not playing and as always has to obey his father’s decision and forgets about his lifelong dream. Eventually one day, he gets tired of Troy and claims his dominance by standing up against his father and making him realize that he can take care and survive in the world on his own and leaves the house. Before leaving the house Troy talks to his son and says:
You a man. Now, let’s see you act like one. Turn your behind around and walk out this yard. And when you get out there in the alley…you can forget about this house. See? ‘Cause this is my house. You be a man and get your own house. (2.4.71)
When Troy battles with Cory he feels his son is more than capable to take care of himself and kicks Cory out of the house. He feels Cory has become a man because he stood up for himself. Standing up for own self is the character Troy sees as being an adult. He also realizes that his son has shown enough evidence of maturity when he fights with him. This reminds Troy what he did years ago with his father which is also the reason why Cory is kicked out of the house.
Wilson’s Fences lets us know that no matter how one tries to forget his/her past, it will always haunt him/her and will also come to play a significant role in the future. Troy grew up with a father who hardly supported him and once beat him to death. Although he tries not being like him, he follows each and every step his father had taken and in the end becomes a mirror of his father. He demands respect, thinks about himself, is unkind and harsh to his sons. Cory pays for the arrogance that his father shows but ends up being just like his father by arguing with him and leaving the house because he thinks he has matured enough. Fences in the end, symbolizes the barriers Troy who has faced and his son Cory who is going to face in life. Wilson in the end gives the readers a hope that Cory will break the barrier and become a good father to his kids unlike his father and his grandfather.