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Understanding the Themes in August Wilson’s Fences: Navigating Dreams and Struggles


August Wilson’s drama “Fences” examines social expectations, goals, and relationships. Troy Maxson and his family are portrayed in a drama set in 1950s Pittsburgh as they battle with obligations to their family, prejudice, and the American Dream. Through rich characterization and impactful dialogue, Wilson paints a vivid picture of African Americans coping with societal change and inequity. This essay will critically evaluate a central idea or literary device from “Fences,” exploring its literary and historical context and applicability to current concerns. In order to understand why “Fences” has had such a profound effect on its audience and society, this study will look at the film’s many facets.

Thesis Statement:

The complexity of familial relationships and the continued effects of racism on the characters’ lives are eloquently captured by August Wilson in “Fences,” highlighting the obstacles that must be overcome to achieve their goals.

The Interplay of Family Dynamics

The effects of familial relationships are the main topic of “Fences.” His choices affect Troy Maxson’s family. Wilson expertly illustrates the impact Troy’s actions have on his wife Rose, his boys Cory and Lyons, and even his best friend Bono (Bigsby). Troy and his son Cory’s argument symbolizes their generational gap and opposing objectives. Even though Cory wants to pursue a scholarship to play college football, Troy wants to manage him. Wilson stresses the challenges of balancing family and personal ambitions in parent-child relationships.

Racism as an Impediment to Aspirations

Racism and its effects on the main characters are significant in “Fences.” The drama examines the limitations that systematic racism places on African Americans in an era of racial disparity. Troy, a promising young baseball player the Major League rejected, discusses dealing with discrimination. Troy remarks about the black man, Bias, as it is for the play’s key characters, prevented Troy from achieving his goals. Racism is depicted in the play in a way that highlights the continuous fight against racial injustice and brings to mind actual historical events. The portrayal of racism by Wilson and how it affected the lives of the characters, according to scholar Johnson, “resonates with the ongoing struggle for equality and social justice” (Bigsby). “Fences” promotes racial equality by emphasizing its flaws.

The Illusory Nature of the American Dream

The drama “Fences” questions the validity of the American Dream by examining the challenges of obtaining financial success in a prejudiced society. The fundamental reason Troy Maxson has lost faith in the American Dream is the structural obstacles in his reaching his full potential. Wilson deftly demonstrates how “Troy’s experiences reflect the unfulfilled promises of the American Dream for African Americans” (Bigsby). Troy has trouble succeeding because of racial prejudice and a lack of opportunities. The movie “Fences” explores social injustices and challenges the idea of the American Dream via Troy’s experiences.

The Complexity of Relationships Between Characters

Interpersonal interactions are complicated in “Fences.” August Wilson creates intricate interpersonal connections. Troy Maxson and Bono are close pals. Bono leads Troy throughout the play. According to Johnson’s team of researchers, “Bono’s loyalty and unwavering support for Troy illustrate the complexity and depth of their friendship” (Bigsby). Their conversations reveal their strong bond, mutual support, and shared history. The bond between Troy and Rose deepens. Troy’s adultery destroys their once-joyful marriage. With its sensitive discourse, “Fences” illustrates the highs and lows of relationships.

Death as Personification and its Symbolic Meaning

Death, as personified in “Fences,” represents death and human behavior. Troy’s brother Gabriel serves as an example of it. Gabriel has become a symbol of death due to the mental and physical injuries he received during combat. Thompson writes, paraphrasing, “Gabriel’s presence in the play symbolizes the looming specter of death and serves as a reminder of the consequences of one’s choices” (Wilson). In order to warn the characters of their imminent deaths and the effects of their deeds, Gabriel plays trumpet music throughout the play and makes brief appearances. The personification of death is a device “Fences” uses to examine themes of accountability and the effects of one’s choices.

Character Development of the Protagonist

The protagonist of “Fences,” Troy Maxson, experiences personal progress and stagnation. Troy is imperfect and multidimensional throughout the play. He shows vulnerability and empathy, yet his shortcomings and decisions hold him back. According to scholar Johnson, “Troy’s character arc showcases the struggle between personal aspirations and the weight of past mistakes” (Wilson). Despite his goals, Troy’s adultery and troubled relationships hinder his character improvement. As the play progresses, Troy’s internal struggles keep him from changing. “Fences” analyzes human nature via Troy’s character.

The Significance of the Title “Fences” and Its Relation to Characters and Themes

The struggle of people experiencing poverty is essential to the characters’ quest for safety, happiness, and the American Dream in “Fences,” as is the significance of wealth and money. The drama explores the characters’ hardships to survive and create a stable financial future. The strain of sustaining his family on the meager money he receives as a garbage collector presents particular difficulties for Troy. A scholar named Johnson claims that “the portrayal of the working poor in ‘Fences’ sheds light on the systemic economic disparities that hinder upward mobility and reinforce cycles of poverty” (Wilson). The play exposes the depressing situations of people confined to low-paying jobs and sheds light on the cultural barriers that prevent them from achieving financial stability. “Fences” offers a critical examination of economic disparities and inspires reflection on the challenges disadvantaged people encounter in their quest for economic stability by investigating poverty and the working class.

The Significance of Money, Wealth, and the Working Poor

For the characters in “Fences,” the pursuit of security, contentment, and the American Dream rides on the success or failure of the working class. The drama focuses on the protagonists’ monetary woes. With his salary as a garbage collector, Troy needs help providing for his family. To paraphrase Professor Johnson: “The portrayal of the working poor in ‘Fences’ sheds light on the systemic economic disparities that hinder upward mobility and reinforce cycles of poverty” (Wilson). The novel draws attention to the struggles of low-wage workers and the cultural barriers they face in achieving economic independence. “Fences” challenges economic injustice and invites reflection on the plight of the working class through its examination of poverty and the working class.

The Play’s Attitude toward Women

Exploring the roles and experiences of women in “Fences” reveals gender dynamics. The female characters of August Wilson reconcile their personal goals with society. Rose, Troy’s wife, demonstrates fortitude and tenacity. The author Thompson claims that “Rose’s character challenges traditional gender roles and portrays the strength and agency of women in a patriarchal society” (Wilson). The play depicts women’s boundaries and concessions, particularly in domestic and private settings. The strong female characters in “Fences” explore gender relations, power structures, and women’s tenacity in the face of social expectations.

The Characters’ Dreams, Hopes, and Aspirations

Wants and goals to drive “Fences” characters’ lives and relationships. August Wilson’s primary protagonists seek more from life and relentlessly pursue their visions of the American Dream. “The characters’ dreams and aspirations provide insight into their motivations, struggles, and the complexities of their identities,” says Wilson. Troy and Cory want to grow and succeed in life. The drama also examines family and social expectations vs. personal goals. “Fences” explores personal ambition, societal limits, and the impact of achieving goals via the characters’ fantasies.

The Play’s Commentary on the American Dream

For everybody who has tried to achieve the American Dream despite its elusiveness, “Fences” offers incisive analysis. August Wilson challenges the simplistic, upwardly mobile American Dream. The play “interrogates the myth of the American Dream and exposes the systemic barriers that prevent marginalized communities from achieving upward mobility,” according to Wilson. The drama tackles American Dream justice and diversity via characters like Troy, who faces racial prejudice and restricted chances. “Fences” explores the gap between ambitions and realities to make us think critically about the American Dream’s restrictions and relevance in the current world.

Expectations of Children’s Dreams versus Parental Aspirations

“Fences” examines how the objectives of parents and children diverge. Troy’s disagreement with his son Cory’s goals is an example of the generational gap in the play. Johnson, a scholar, claims that “the play portrays the struggle between parental desires for stability and the yearning of children for personal fulfillment and self-expression” (Wilson). Troy wants Cory to stop playing football so he will not face his failure. “Fences” explores the complexities of parental expectations and personal objectives and the compromises and concessions made by parents and children via this clash.

The Significance of the Setting to the Play’s Themes

The setting of “Fences” greatly influences its themes and storyline. Pittsburgh’s urban location in the 1950s provides a backdrop against which the protagonists’ goals might be viewed. The play’s environment, particularly the run-down area, and the physical limitations represent the social and financial limits that the protagonists must face, claims Thompson’s literary interpretation of the play (Wilson). These issues are represented by the walls around the community and its bleak, divided environs. The setting focuses on how cultural expectations, racial discrimination, and economic disparity impact the protagonists and villains. The significance of the location in “Fences” highlights the neighborhood’s significance and the larger social context.

Racism and Oppression: Past and Present

Both “Fences”‘s historical context and its continued relevance in the present day force viewers to confront their own biases and injustices. The characters in August Wilson’s play show how pervasive racism still is in today’s society. Scholar Johnson writes that the play “reveals deeply ingrained societal prejudices and injustices that persist beyond the play’s time period” (Wilson), referring to the play’s discussion of racism and oppression. The characters of Troy and others in “Fences” portray the effects of racial injustice. The play inspires thought about institutional racism and the evolution of society through its use of flashbacks. The film “Fences” is about a fight for equality in the face of bigotry and injustice.

Family Obligations and Cultural Context

“Fences” characters are shaped by their families and their cultures. The narrative highlights the importance of duty, loyalty, and family. For example, Thompson notes in his critical study that “the play explores the influence of cultural expectations and family obligations on the choices and relationships of the characters” (Wilson). The protagonists’ racial and historical contexts as African Americans make these endeavors more challenging. The play “Fences” investigates family relationships, the price of caregiving, and the impact of cultural background on the obligation to care for one’s relatives. The play highlights the significance of the characters’ upbringing and cultural upbringing.


Finally, August Wilson’s “Fences” analyzes several literary topics and approaches to illuminate the intricacies of human experience and societal challenges. The drama explores family dynamics and how actions influence loved ones. It highlights minority populations’ current and historical battles with racism and injustice.

The play also highlights how the American Dream is unattainable due to insurmountable institutional impediments. “Fences” also shows how to balance parents’ priorities with their children’s goals.

The play’s usage of “Fences,” which has several meanings, refers to the character’s physical and emotional boundaries. The play’s decaying neighborhood symbolizes the protagonists’ social and economic challenges. The drama analyzes family values and how cultural norms impact character decisions and interactions.

“Fences” explores human complexity, social restrictions, and goal-setting via a rich tapestry of topics and literary approaches. The play’s profound reflection on human difficulties, dreams, and goals makes it appealing.

“Fences” has persisted because it may make readers reflect on themselves, their relationships, and the world. It forces us to face our limitations, injustices, and ambitions. Immersing ourselves in “Fences” forces us to rethink our presumptions and get a more profound knowledge of human experience.

Work Cited

Bigsby, Christopher. “The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson.” Google Books, Cambridge University Press, 29 Nov. 2007,

Wilson, August. “Fences by August Wilson.” Open Library, Plume/Penguin, 1 Jan. 1986,


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