“Fences”by August Wilson
Lifeof the Author
Theplaywright was born on April 27, 1945, as Frederick August Kittel tothe family of Frederick Kittel and his wife, Daisy Wilson-Kittel inPittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Wilson had a humble beginning the familyof seven lived in one house which had two rooms and lacked hot water.When Wilson was about fifteen years old, his parents divorced and hewent to stay with his mother and step-father in Hazelton, Pittsburgh.
Wilson’smother taught him at home and he, therefore, learned to read beforehe started school. Wilson‘s brightness enabled him to get a cardwhen he was only five years old. However, he faced a lot ofchallenges as he was growing, with the main challenge being racismWilson faced a lot of racism, for instance one particular time whenhe wrote a good paper, he was accused of plagiarism by his teacherwho believed that a black person was not capable of coming up withsuch masterpiece. Wilson later dropped out of school and he startedto learn by himself at the Library of Carnegie in Pittsburgh. It wasin Carnegie Library that Wilson started reading the works of otherAfrican writers.
Wilsonmain influence in Art is Romare Bearden, who was a renowned painter.Some of Bearden’s work such as the Piano was an inspiration toWilson when wrote the play “The Piano Lesson.” When he was about20 years old, Wilson knew that he his desire was to be a writer. Hepurchased a number of typewriters which he used in composing andsubmitting works of poetry for publication. Wilson later partneredwith a friend and established a theatre company in his place ofbirth.
Wilsonlater moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to take up the post of a paidwriter where he made adaptations of Native American stories. He alsoplayed a huge role in writing script for writers. Wilson wrote hisfirst play while he was in Minnesota and won a Jerome Fellowshipwhich made it possible for the production of the play.
Aftergaining some experience in theatre and arts, Wilson decided todevelop a new plan to change his career. He started researching anddocumenting the struggles of African-Americans since 1900. Hedocumented the struggles by the use of plays. One of his plays,“Fences” won him the Pulitzer Price for the works on drama.
Significanceof the Title ‘Fences’
Thetitle ‘Fences’ is very significant as it assists the playwrightto pass across his message. In the play, the title, that is, fences,serves a number of purposes which contribute to the main theme of theplay. Normally, the main purpose of a fence is to keep people out ofa place or prevent people from leaving a place, simply put, a fenceshould keep some people in and other people out. The significance ofthis title has been discussed at length below.
Throughoutthe play, the reader comes across a common fence that is being builtby the characters around themselves and around other people. Aphysical fence indicates possession, and this act in the play is justbut a different version of the American Dream of owning homes (Barnetet al 122). Creating a fence around one, therefore, is a way to layclaim to the ownership of a property and it determines which peoplecan leave and those who are not allowed to enter.
Agood illustration of the use of “Fence” as a significant titlecan be found in the play such as a rule that bars theAfrican-Americans(Troy) from participating in baseball. Thisrestriction on what one can do and cannot do is a form of a fencethat was created to keep the African-American in their placeeconomically and socially.
Anotherform of a fence in the play is the one people create between eachother. For instance, Rose Maxson and Troy Maxson have a fence thatseparates them. It is because of the fence that Troy cannot confidein her his feelings and emotions in the way that he does withAlberta. Another illustration of fences that people create betweenthemselves or for other people is when Troy tries to be protective ofCory because he believes that Cory may fail.
Theplaywright, August Wilson chooses to use the title “Fences” inhis play as a symbol. The title “Fences” has been used as symbolin various instances of the play. Three of the clearest examples inthe play indicate that the word ‘fence’ is used to represent aform of protection the relationship between Troy Maxson and RoseMaxson, and that of Troy with Mr. Death. Other instances where thetitle has been used are when Rose calls for protection against Troywho on the other hand needs a fence to keep him away from death.
“Fences”is centered on building fences around the characters and, helps thereader of the play to have a better grasp of what is going on in theplay. In the course of the play, the readers get to see the way theprotective “Fences” are used by the playwright to protect each ofthe characters. In Act 1, Rose forms a fence which she uses toprotect herself when she chooses to sing a religious song to Jesus“Jesus, be a fence all around me every day. Jesus, I want you toprotect me as I travel on my way…” (Wilson 21) When Rose choosesto sing the song, the reader can observe that Rose prays forprotection, in this case, to be protected by Jesus. To Rose, Jesus isher protective “Fence.”
Onthe contrary, both Troy and Cory sees the fence as a burden, bonoshows Troy that Rose want the fence for her protection and theprotection of her family as he tells Troy that some people createfences around them to keep other people out of their lives whileothers build fences to protect their loved ones (Wilson 61). Whenthey are talking about the Project, Bono questions Troy’s act ofchoosing a hardwood over softwood and Troy informs him that he hadpreferred hardwood because he believes that the hardwood wouldprotect him more than the softwood (Wilson 60).
Anotherinstance of the use of fence in the play is the relationship betweenRose and Troy. The relationship between the two is symbolized by acake that Rose bakes for their Church. The fence in this case is thecake which separates the two since Rose is commitment to church whileTroy is not. Troy betrays Rose and his relationship with her isweakened.
Anothersignificance of the title “Fence” is the one used an example bythe playwright on Gabriel as the only one who does not have limits,and therefore, has no fence around him. In the play, Gabriel does nothave limits or boundaries around him. However, Gabriel has adisability which creates a form of a fence around him. He cannot dosome things that other people can do because of his disability. Incontrast to the other characters, Gabriel is portrayed as a person ofgood spirits, always happy and contented with life.
Fromthe foregoing, it is clear that almost all the characters in thep lay have some fences built around them. These fences are to keepsome people in and lock others outside. Gabriel is an exception tothis as he is happy, limitless and contented.
Significanceof the Setting
InAct 1, the playwright introduces us to the play by giving us detailsof the setting. Wilson describes that the setting of the play is ayard, which has only one entrance to Maxson’s house, he goes on todescribe that the small dirt yard is fenced but not completelyfenced. The setting of the play contributes to the theme of seclusionwhereby, the fence around Maxson’s yard defines life for Troy as itsets a boundary and prevents him from finding about the rest of theworld (Barnet et al 122). Notably, all the actions that take place inthis play are around the Maxson’s household. In the last Act, Troycompletes the fence around Maxson’s household thus marking completeseclusion and protection.
Thesetting of the play is also important as it reveals to the readermore about the characters. For instance, in Act 1, the playwrightdescribes the Maxson’s house as “an ancient two-story brickhouse…” (Wilson, 2) through this short description, the readergets to know that the house makes Troy to be proud of himself sincehe can provide for his family.
FeministApproach in Studying Fences
Whenthe feminist theory is used to study this play, the reader gets tounderstand Wilson’s portrayal of the way the society viewed women.The playwright uses the character of Rose Maxson as a way to putacross his views on how the African-American women were treated andtheir dreams and what they could do to achieve their dreams (Humm,42). Also, the reader is able to know what challenges theAfrican-American women faced during that period and the strugglesthey made to bring gender equality.
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