Fences is a play by August Wilson set in the 1950s. Ithighlights problems people faced during the time, some of whichcontinue to affect society to date. These include racialdiscrimination, trust issues and parent-child relationships. The playuses different characters to expound on these issues. One suchcharacter is the protagonist, Troy Maxson. Troy is a hard workingAfrican American living with his son and wife. He is employed by theSanitation Department, in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where heworks as a garbage collector. Troy is dedicated to ensuring that heprovides for his wife and children, and also takes care of hisbrother. However, his former failures seem to influence his view oflife by negatively affecting how he relates with others, which makeshim a tragic figure. The essay aims at demonstrating that Troy isa tragic hero.
When a character is said to be a hero, it does not always refers tothe archetypical superman. A character can as well be a tragic hero.A hero is a flawless character, one who helps the needy, savesinnocent people and fights crime. When such a character has faults,he becomes a tragic hero. A tragic hero is defined as a character whodespite doing well allows his failures to overcome him (Wetmore 45).Aristotle describes such a character as someone, who has dignity andis naturally good, but for them to be referred as a tragic figure,the character suffers downfalls (Misra 75). In most cases, thedownfalls are caused by one of the characters strengths. In order toexplain why Troy is a tragic hero, it is important to begin byexplaining in what ways he was a good person. This is followed by adescription of how he suffers downfalls, and in the process ends upas a tragic hero.
Troy is a hero because he wants to “give everybody a chance todrive the truck” (Wilson 1158). These words indicate that Troyworks in an organization where employees are not treated equally. Hemakes it clear that “the white mens driving and the coloredlifting” (Wilson 1158). Considering that we already know that Troyis a garbage collector, it is apparent that in the organizationAfrican Americans’ jobs involve collecting garbage. On the otherhand, whites are given jobs in driving trucks. Troy feels that theorganization discriminates against blacks. As a result, he hasreported the issue to the union, with the objective of ensuring thatthe organization is compelled to offer jobs equally. Troy envisionsan organization where African Americans will also be allowed to drivethe trucks, and white can also be employed as garbage collectors. Heis a hero because he fights for the rights of others.
Notwithstanding the discrimination at his place of work, Troycontinues to work hard to provide for his children and wife. This isasserted by Rose, when she acknowledges that “can’t nobody sayyou ain’t done what was right by him. Look how long you took careof him” (Wilson 1164). Rose is referring to Lyons, who is Troy’seldest son. Troy ensures that he reports to his workplace on a dailybasis. In turn, he is able to cater for the basic needs of his wife.At the same time, he also assists his son with money. This is anindication that he is a hardworking man, who is very concerned aboutthe wellbeing of his family. Despite the fact that Lyons is overthirty years, Troy still feels obliged to help him. By Rose,reassuring Troy that he has done a good job, it also indicates thatshe appreciates his hard work.
As a spouse, friend and father, Troy without a doubt fulfils hisresponsibilities. However, in the process he misses the mark onnumerous occasions. Despite working hard to meet his family dutiesand pushing for equality at his workplace, the character misses tomake some things right. Similar to tragic heroes, Troy rarely listensto the contributions of other people when making decisions. He doeswhat he presumes to be right. Even when his wife and friend warn himthat his actions could have tragic consequences, he continues to bestubborn. This has led him into making decisions that cause a riftbetween him and others.
Troy is a tragic hero because he misses the mark with his sons byfailing to support their aspirations. When Lyons expresses hisinterest in music, “the only thing that matters to me is music”,his father thinks that he is “living the fast life” (Wilson1161). Although Lyons is unemployed, he desires to become a musicianbut does not have the money to support his dreams. Troy thinks thathis son is merely wasting time and he should get serious with life.He thinks that music is a waste of time. As a father, it is expectedthat one supports the aspirations of their son. But in Fences,the opposite effect is witnessed. Troy expects that his son abandonshis dream of becoming a musician and instead find a paying job, likehe has done. He presumes that a paying job is the only way for Lyonsto support his family.
Lyons makes it clear that Troy was not a good father to him when hewas growing up. When Troy attempts to question how his eldest son wasraised, Lyons says “if you wanted to change me, you should havebeen there when I was growing up” (Wilson 1161). Lyons is Troy’sson from a previous marriage. Based on his son’s statement, itappears that Troy was not present when he was growing up, presumablybecause his first marriage did not work. As a result, Troy did nothave the opportunity to develop any relationship with his son. Hethinks that Lyons did not end up as he should have, because he wasnot brought up in the right way. Yet, as the reader, it is obviousthat Troy is at fault for failing to have made the effort to bepresent in his son’s life. It is possible that he may not have beenpresent in his son’s life and feels that he should now take action.However, it is too late as the son is already a grownup. Any effortsby Troy to intervene in Lyons’ life only cause disagreementsbetween them.
The character’s relationship with Cory, the second son, is anotherillustration of missing the mark. Cory and Troy both share a passionfor sports. Cory manages to “get recruited by a college footballteam” (Wilson 1159). It is expected that his father, formerlyhaving wanted to play football, will be happy about his son’sachievement. Instead, Troy thinks that “he ought to go and getrecruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living”(Wilson 1159). He further states that football “it ain’t gonnaget him nowhere” (Wilson 1159). The character is pessimistic thathis son will become successful by playing football. A majorfrustration in Troy’s life was his inability to play pro baseball.Despite having been the best in his team, racial discrimination athis time made it impossible for Troy to graduate to majors. Hence, heassumes that the same thing may happen to Cory. Despite reassurancefrom Rose and Bono that times have changed, and that blacks are nowallowed to play in major leagues, he is adamant to allow Cory playfootball. Troy’s decision to refute his son to join the footballteam and get a sponsorship is justified when argued from the sensethat he is defending his son from possible racial discrimination.However, in the process, he tragically ends, not just an opportunityto play football for Cory, but also a scholarship. The outcome is arift between Cory and Troy.
Troy refuses to accept that he no longer lives in a period whenpeople can only depend on employment. This is apparent when heexpects that his son should “be working down there at A&P.Ain’t you suppose to be working down there after school” (Wilson1165). Troy expects that Cory should abandon his ambitions of playingfootball to work. Just like in the 50s, he thinks that getting apayday job is the right way for his son to succeed. The charactershows concern towards the wellbeing of his son in the wrong way. Thisis because he fails to appreciate Cory’s decisions. Troy’sstrained relationship with Cory is probably due to his ownrelationship with his father. The character disliked his father, ashe was mean and unaffectionate. He did not like the fact that hisfather had many children, all with different women. Troy left homewhen he was 14 years following an aggressive confrontation with thefather. The reason for the confrontation was because the fatherdiscovered Troy had not gone to work on the farm to mess with a girl.He hit Troy, not for what he was doing, but to also have the girl.This caused him to lose all respect he had for the father (Pereira39). As a result, Troy has developed a fractured way of showingaffection to his son. But despite, his love, he comes out as a meanfather, who is more concerned about what he thinks is right and notwhat his son wants. Cory assumes that his father is jealous of hisachievements by noting “You just scared I’m gonna be better thanyou, that’s all” (Wilson 1171). Such differences in opinion,results in Troy’s tragic figure.
Troy does not just lose his sons, but his wife as well. As the playbegins, Troy makes it clear that he loves his wife. It is apparent inthe way he addresses her “Aw, woman …okay, baby” (Wilson 1158).In addition, he diligently provides for his wife. However, he cheatson her for pleasure. The outcome of the infidelity is that heimpregnates another woman. Troy is portrayed as a faithful, lovingand sensible wife. Troy says that “I know she a good woman, I beenmarried to her for eighteen years” (Wilson 1172). Despite Troy’sharsh character, she continues to love him. By asking Troy and theson to build the fence, she expects that the family can becomeunited. This is illustrated when Cory asks “I don’t see why mamawants a fence around the yard noways” (Wilson 1172). Bono respondsby saying “Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you”(Wilson 1172). Contrary, Troy continues to consume alcohol and beginsa relationship with another woman. By doing so he betrays her loveand ruins their relationship. Despite all the good things he has donefor her, his act of infidelity out shadows the good and Rose can onlythink of him as bad.
There are many illustrations in the play, which are used to depictTroy as a tragic hero. Troy is a good person, but suffers manydownfalls resulting in his tragic figure. His goodness is apparent inhis fight to have African Americans drive trucks, which is largely afight for fair treatment for all people at his workplace. He is alsoa good character because Rose asserts that he works hard to providefor the family. However, he becomes a tragic hero when he loses themark and wife. His first born son, Lyons acknowledges that the fatherwas not present in his life. Troy also fails to support his son’sdesire to do music. There is a rift between Troy and his second son,Cory. Cory is talented in sports, just like the father. However, Troyassumes that Cory will also be subjected to racism as he was at histime when playing baseball. He also thinks that Cory should find areal job and forget about football. By failing to support his son,Cory loses a scholarship and begins to dislike the father. Last, Troybecomes a tragic hero when he cheats on his wife, Rose andimpregnates another woman. Although he has done many good things forRose, his infidelity changes her view towards him as after the actshe views him as a bad person.
Misra, Karuna S. TheTragic Hero throughAges. New Delhi:Northern Book Centre, 1992. Print.
Pereira, Kim. AugustWilson and the African-American Odyssey.Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Wetmore, Kevin J. TheAthenian Sun in an African Sky: Modern African American Adaptations ofClassical Greek Tragedy.Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences, 1157 – 1181. <http://web.mit.edu/wpick/output.pdf>