August Wilson is easily one of the most resonant writers of all time. His greatness lies in his ability to encompass the totality of the black psyche in a series of characters that resemble those you know and perhaps even portions of your own behavior or actions. Fences exhibits the height of Wilson’s talent—depicting the beauty and burden endured in the black familial environment. The play focuses on Troy, the Maxon family patriarch, who loves as vehemently as he struggles to keep his ahead above the tides of racism. Denzel Washington, produces and stars in a cinematic feature of this August Wilson classic. Washington maintains the creative and political integrity of the play—displaying the timeless nature of Wilson’s talent to a contemporary audience.
The film, like the play, illustrates black life as complicated and black love as a facet of this complication. The main characters each symbolically represent a prominent black perspective—all nurtured by the western world.
Rose, Troy’s wife, illustrates black optimism or disillusionment. For example, when Troy and Rose express opposing views on their son’s athletic ambitions, Rose’s perspective overlooks patterns that overtly refute her perspective. Namely, Rose states that there “are more black players” now than in her youth. While this may be true, the increase does little to overturn the overall lack of representation blacks face in the competitive industries. Her perspective also omits the clear fact that black players often make less, experience less playing time and perhaps most importantly, do not accurately reflect the height of black ability. Rose symbolically illustrates those of the black community that seek change so desperately that they incite said change in their forgetfulness. Rose represents blacks who buy into symbolism and thereby remain controlled systemically in the same manner that audiences concede to the allusions of magicians to escape the harsh realities that await them at home. These individuals fuel capitalism in their quest to fabricate change. Form the church, to artists that glamorize the perils of black life, Rose symbolizes the countless members of the black community who invent a false reality to dissolves racism simply by choosing to look past it.
Conversely, Troy symbolizes those of the black diaspora who learn racism through experience. Hardened by the numerous doors closed in his face,Troy vehemently tries to shield his son from the disappointment that awaits him as a black man. Thus, while the casual observer may see the father/son relationship between Troy and Cory as love-less, it is perhaps Troy who loves strongest of all. This love does not render the love produced by other character insignificant. However, it is Troy’s grasp on reality that affords his sentiments a depth absent from other perspectives rooted in fantasy and half-truths. Rose, presented as the rock of the Maxon family surely loves her family deeply. Her love however plants itself in a series of fantasies, fantasies necessary to maintain the integrity of her emotions.To support this claim, let’s observe the following monologue Rose
delivers to Troy:
I been standing with you! I been right here with you, Troy. I got a life too. I have eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot with you. Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me. Don’t you think it ever crossed my mind to want to know other men? That I wanted to lay up somewhere and forget about my responsibilities? That I wanted someone to make me laugh so I could feel good? You not the only one who’s got wants and needs. But I held on to you, Troy. I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams… and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted my self inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn’t take me no eighteen years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and it wasn’t never gonna bloom.
But I held on to you, Troy. I held you tighter. You was my husband. I owed you everything I had. Every part of me I could find to give you. And upstairs in that room…with the dark ness falling in on me…I gave everything I had to try and erase the doubt that you wasn’t the finest man in the world. And wherever you was going…I wanted to be there with you. Cause you was my husband. Cause that’s the only way I was gonna survive as your wife. (Wilson 71)
Brilliantly rendered to the audience by a skillful Viola Davis, Rose’s words unveil her disposition as a strategy implemented so that she could not only marry Troy but stay married. These half-truths and fantasies that foment her marriage and commitment do not thwart the genuine affinity she has for Troy, but demonstrates black love as afforded a texture impenetrable to the ingredients of traditional love. Thus, in order to make it work as a black couple, you must deter from tradition because it is literally you and your significant other against the world. You must have hope, and you must look past what conventions deem shortcomings to maintain a belief in your spouse and ultimately yourself. However, the candid admission unveiled in this monologue reveals that Rose is quite similar to Troy beneath the surface. Thus Rose’s hopefulness and optimism not only anchors her family but composes a platform for the familial unit to exist. It is hope that allows Rose to love Troy for all he isn’t, yet Troy on the other hand, loves Rose for all that she is. Perhaps most significantly, Troy needs Rose in a manner that thwarts his ability to fulfill this necessity through fantasy. Thus, Wilson brilliantly depicts the black love dynamic in Rose and Troy—unconventional, counterintuitive yet functional.
Perhaps the true talent of Wilson’s writing is the empathy allotted to his characters. This empathy not only humanizes his characters but presents the necessary platform to comprehend the black male psyche. Yes, Troy proves unfaithful to his devoted wife. But, in hearing Troy’s reasoning, it become obvious that Troy loves his wife more than the western world will allow him to love himself. Consider the following monologue:
Rose, I done tried all my life to live decent…to live a clean…hard…useful life. I tried to be a good husband to you. In every way I knew how. Maybe I came into the world back wards, I don’t know. But…you were born with two strikes on you before you come to the plate. You got to guard it closely…always looking for the curve ball on the inside corner. You can’t afford to let none get past you. You can’t afford a call strike. If you going down…you going down swinging. Everything lined up against you. What you gonna do. I fooled them. Rose. When I found you and Cory and a halfway decent job…I was safe. Couldn’t nothing touch me. I wasn’t gonna strike out no more. I wasn’t going back to the penitentiary. I wasn’t gonna lay in the streets with a bottle of wine. I was safe. I had me a family. A job. I wasn’t gonna get that last strike. I was on first looking for one of them boys to knock me in. To get me home. Then when I saw that gal… she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried…I just might me able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second. (Wilson 69)
The analogy of running bases conveyed by Wilson through protagonist Troy, illustrates how racism allows white men to freely run bases where black men either strike out, are bench-ridden, or stuck on first. Fences depicts a cyclical pattern of black men employing women as means to ease their internal struggle. Thus, this behavior is not hyper sexual but systemic.
As a woman it troubles me to articulate the argument I just made, simply because it overtly seems like an excuse. On the other hand, coming to this revelation unveils black love as a complicated dynamic plagued by system not not by one another. Opting to be with a black male or female, comes with a series of challenges that does not reflect individual disfunction but the discordance nurtured by a society contingent on black disenfranchisement. Dr. Amos Wilson once said that “Black inferiority is a social necessity.” Presenting blacks as romantically incompatible to one another assumes a subversive role in proving black inferiority. Furthermore, Fences indirectly addresses those who opt to find love outside of the African diaspora. Namely, Fences covertly depicts love outside of the African as fence to avoid the adversity that hovers over those of African descent who choose to find love in one another.
True to its title, Fences in written and cinematic form depicts fences diversely and abundantly. Troy erects a fence between himself and a racist society. The depth of his struggle thwarts Troy’s ability to affectively channel and articulate his emotions. Thus, fences manifest in the relationships with those closest to him. Troy erects a fence between himself and his sons—chastising any decisions that seems able to render a fate similar to himself. So instead he ends up pushing most away—incidentally proving that love is far more significant than like. Similarly, Troy erects a fence between himself and Rose due to an internal battle he fights to feel worthy. The Troy and Rose dynamic also reflects the like and love concept, as even when Troy performs deeds that render him unlikeable, Rose still loves him. For instance, Troy fathers a daughter from his extramarital relations. After Troy’s mistress dies, Rose raises Troy’s daughter as her own. Now, there are a number of reasons why Rose could have done what she did. However, her decision to build.a family where she could have built a fence epitomizes not only the strength of the black woman, but the intensity of unconditional love. For it is solely unconditional love supersedes like. As Troy says “ Don’t you try and go through life worrying if somebody like you or not. You best be making sure they doing right by you” (Wilson 38). While Wilson displays unconditional love through individuals Troy and Rose, perhaps this dynamic is best executed as a means to uplift the black collective. Specifically, perhaps the best way to do right by one another as members of the black diaspora is to disregard like and love unconditionally.
Despite symbolically representing unconditional love, Rose erects a physical fence to shield her family from external forces. This action overlooks the internal affects yielded by eternal factors—making a physical fence as combative as a knife at a battle of firearms. Late scholar W. E. B. Dubious called these “fences” a veil. History does not call it anything, but our story calls it racism. Regardless of title, Fences reveals it is not the fences we see that poses the most detriment but the ones we cannot see that foments cyclical behavior and thoughts. These invisible fences are perhaps best illustrated through the fate allotted to the young black male characters in the play. By the end of the play, Troy is dead, Cory joins the marines, and Lyons, Troy’s older son, is incarcerated. To put it bluntly, by the end of the play, the characters who represent the “next generation” are systemized. This depiction illustrated fences that disguise themselves as opportunity. Furthermore, the fate issued to Cory and Lyons brilliantly illustrates that the only thing that changes with systemic racism is how it manifests. Cory and Lyons face the same battles the Troy faced, in the same way that Troy faced the same burdens of his father. Thus, perhaps the play’s most resounding message is that time, love, opportunity and change function as a means to convince us as the black collective that the highest and most impenetrable fences compose our past and not our present.