Fences is a literary work by August Wilson. Wilson wrote the play in 1985 but set in 1950 in Pittsburg. Denzel Washington directed the film in 2016. The film details the life of an African-American family living in an era of racism characterized by segregation. Troy, the central character in the play, is a product of racism that has taken a deep grip on his perspective on life. Troy works at a sanitation department, collecting garbage. Troy is disturbed by the division of labor in the department, where only Whites work as track drivers while African Americans work as garbage collectors. Troy complains to his friend Bono about this biasness and hopes everyone can drive the trucks. Troy’s intense experience with racism has molded his way of raising his family such that he declines to sign papers to allow his son to join college and play football. Troy believes in fencing himself and his family from the racial discrimination against Blacks by Whites. Troy develops a strained relationship with his son Cory. When he is caught in a marital affair, the dynamics of his family A central theme of racism emerges as Troy gradually manages to fence himself from White supremacy and confines his family to live by values he adopted to counter the impacts of racism on his life. He segregates himself from the public by erecting a physical fence around his house and from his family by blocking himself from genuinely expressing love and care to them. The film also explores other aspects of life, such as family, by highlighting the family dynamics of the African American community in a segregated world. The movie’s plot, organized into acts, ancient setting, and integration of characters with a perfect understanding of segregation and its impacts on Africa Americans’ life dynamics, play a critical role in explaining the central theme of racism.
Sholihah defines the plot in a literary work as the sequence of events in the narrative, with each sequence detailing how the previous event influences the next event (58). A plot gives a literary work, like a movie, a direction. A plot is regarded as the most fundamental element of a good story because it guides the audience on how it is delivered. A good plot enhances audibility and visibility, enabling the movie to communicate eloquently to the audience. The organization of a plot is critical to understanding essential elements and aspects of a movie, such as a theme (Mahmoud 8). In Fences, Washington structures the plot into two acts and organizes the events into scenes. Each scene is a masterpiece telling how one event leads to the development of another. The plot is in two acts. The first act has four scenes, while the second has five scenes. At the exp[osition, the plot introduces the characters, setting, and background and sets the story in motion. In Fences, exposition introduces the main character, Troy, and his work environment. Troy, in the company of his White friend and workmate Bono, is introduced while riding behind a garbage truck as Troy complains about blacks not being allowed to take other roles like driving the track besides collecting garbage (Washington). At this point, the introductory part of the plot introduces the element of racism that penetrates through institutions. In the background of the setting, White children play baseball on the road with only a few black children in the vicinity.
The exposition also introduces Alberta, the woman Bono suspects Troy of having an affair with. While Troy rubbishes the claims, Alberta’s character unveils gradually, changing Troy’s relationship with his family. As the action in the movie gains momentum, viewers are introduced to Troy’s implicit fears that gradually become explicit. Troy objects to the idea of his son playing football as the White man would never allow him to play football (Washington). Troy’s wife, Rose, reassures him that black boys can now play football with White boys as times have evolved and White men are opening ways for black men to cross over the fences of segregation to mingle with whites. While it is apparent that racism has lost a part of its grip in society. Troy continues to live off his experiences when racism was at its peak in the country. Racism has blurred his ability to see beyond ancient times. He does not believe in the possibility of change or a future where a black person is handed an opportunity to be part of the dominant system. The plot is also built on internal and external conflict. The internal conflict reflects a character’s struggle with their inner self, while external conflict is the struggle a character has with external forces (Ashford University 4). Troy struggles with his past, mainly defined by struggling to find an identity through a system marred with racism. At the story’s climax, when Troy confesses his affair to Rose, readers meet an internally conflicted individual stuck in one place.
Viewers also establish that Rose is not quite contented with her life as she has spent it stuck with Troy in the same place for nearly twenty years. Everything Troy experiences and gives back to the people around him is a construct of his past shaped by racial discrimination. Racism suppressed opportunities for African Americans (Fernandes and Alsaeed 56). Troy worked all his life but wallowed in poverty. Rose is confined to home because there are few opportunities for women of color beyond their kitchen. Black women pretend to be contented with their roles as housewives but are internally conflicted by the limited opportunities that limit their ability to explore beyond their fences. Troy dies while still nurturing unfulfilled dreams. He is resentful and bitter throughout the movies and tries to limit other people’s abilities by imposing his experiences on other’s people’s futures. The theme of racism somewhat dies with Troy as it is shown that his son Cory finally got an opportunity to serve in the army as a marine. Troy also battles an external conflict with the community that thrives on racism. He wishes to protest the poor treatment African Americans receive at the cleaning department as they are only hired as garbage collectors. His fight with the system and community ends with Troy fencing his home to segregate him and his family from these institutions.
The film was set in Pennsylvania, Pittsburg, in 1950. Pittsburg was one of the cities in the United States that greatly capitalized on slavery between the 17th and 18th centuries (Byrdsong and Yamatani 16). By the Mid 209th century, slavery had long ended in the United States, but the long-term impacts of slavery still penetrated the country and haunted the victims. Slavery created racism which resulted in the segregation of Washington highlights in Fences. Troy might not have been enslaved, but he experienced the wrath of racial discrimination at a time when racism bloomed in the country. Most adults in this period had one or more experiences with racism in their youth. Racism left a debilitating long-term impact on their lives. Some individuals like Troy never addressed their struggles, which severely affected their social and personal lives. The communication style, dressing, and mannerisms are set in ancient times. Fathers are allowed to decide for their children, be violent towards children, and exert extreme authority without the fear of being charged with child abuse.
Troy is notably violent towards his son. Troy’s methods of raising his son, which result in a strained relationship with Cory, are similar to ancient methods used to raise children. When Cory informs his mother that he wishes not to attend his father’s burial, Rose reminds him that his father wanted him to be everything he was and, at the same time, wanted him to be better than him (Washington). This revelation shows that Troy loved his son but did not want to raise him, using soft methods to make a stronger man out of Cory who could face the struggles of an African American man head-on. Cory did not believe in racism as a barrier to one’s dream. He did not understand that racism might not have been manifesting explicitly at the time. In reality, racism was becoming a silent practice that manifested through the country’s systems. Troy wanted his son to have a clear picture of the time, place, and situation they lived in to protect him from having higher expectations than the country could afford him. The role of racism in shaping how black parents raised their sons cannot be overlooked in this movie. Black men raised their sons through hard love to prepare them for reality.
Gultom asserts that the relationship between the character and the theme is shown through the character’s actions, thoughts, and approach to the plot (1). The characters bring the story to life, connecting the audience to the plot. Characters help push important elements, such as the story’s themes, to the audience. Fences are anchored on the diverse and dynamic talents of renowned African American actors who deeply understand the patterns of racism and its impact. Troy is the main character in the story. He embodies racism. Racism thwarted the dreams of his youth. He continues to wallow in the shadows of what could have been. The pains of the failure and struggles he has had to accommodate still haunt him and have turned him into a bitter and resentful individual. Troy, played by Denzel Washington, perfectly consumes this role, accommodating the struggles, living through them, and turning them into a nightmare for the people around him. Troy is more of a static character in the movie as he does not change his perspective on life or strive to reform his relationship with Cory.
Troy has embraced rigid practicality that drives him to isolate his family from the public by erecting a fence around his house. He has accommodated segregation as a defensive weapon from racism, limited opportunities, and struggles. Rose takes up her role with great confidence and excellence, as seen in her momentous expression of love towards her family, dissatisfaction with the stagnation, and ability to move beyond the pains Troy causes her (Washington). Rose espouses a traditional housewife contented with her roles in the kitchen. However, when Troy informs her of his wish to move beyond one point where he has been forever stuck, the audience learns that Rose also feels stuck in the same place because of her love for her husband and family and the lack of opportunity beyond her kitchen. Unlike Troy, Rose espouses maternal gentleness, understanding, and love. Rose tries to ignite the urge to change in Troy by ensuring that things have changed for black children. She supports her son’s dream. Rose’s role was more to contradict Troy and be a voice of reason to help Troy acknowledge that while racism exists, there is a reason to be positive, experience, and show love to family in a racially tense environment.
Conclusively, Fences is a masterpiece literary work that highlights the long-term impacts of racism on victims’ families and communities. Troy embodies the internal and external struggles of victims of racial discrimination battle, which can become damaging when left unaddressed. The story’s plot employs subelements such as internal and external conflicts, exposition, climax rising action, and falling action to give the story a perfect flow of events that allows the theme of racism to arise and penetrate throughout the story. The movie is set in the mid-twentieth century when the victims of slavery are battling its effects, such as racism. The integration of characters with a perfect understanding of the patterns and impacts of racism helps to sustain the central theme throughout the story.
Ashford University. “Theme, Plot, and Conflict.” (n.d): 1-5. <https://content.bridgepointeducation.com/curriculum/file/4f178332-435c-4c9b-b85a-0f9755578f2a/1/ENG125%20-%20Theme,%20Plot,%20and%20Conflict.pdf>.
Byrdsong, Rashad and Hide Yamatani. “Historical Overview of Black Suffering in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA: Depth of Contemporary Social Work Challenges.” International Journal of Social Work (2017): 15-26. <https://www.ceapittsburgh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Historical-Overview-of-Black-Suffering-in-Pittsburgh-Article.pdf>.
Fences. Dir. Denzel Washington. Perf. Denzel Washington. 2016.
Fernandes, Lilly and Nora Hadi Alsaeed. “African Americans and Workplace Discrimination.” European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies (2014): 56-76. <http://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/African-Americans-and-Workplace-Discrimination.pdf>.
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Mahmoud, Reem Lotfy. “Story Telling and its Relation with Film Script.” International Journal of Creativity and Innovation in Humanities and Education (2018): 1-23. <https://ijcihe.journals.ekb.eg/article_182840_18186c41724fd76bd0f079536d92c0a4.pdf>.
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