Fences” August Wilson
The Influence of Sports in Fences
Sports is one of the principle motifs in Fences, a play written by August Wilson, and is utilized to facilitate the other themes that this work of drama explores. The protagonist, Troy Maxson (Gilmore), is a former Negro leagues baseball player who is still attempting to reconcile his attempts at a career in professional baseball with the fact that he was not permitted to pursue this option due to a racial barrier at the time he was playing. His son, Cory Maxson, is a high school football player with promise who has the potential to play collegiate ball. Due to these facts and their effects upon the characterization of both of these individuals, Wilson utilizes the motif of sports to demonstrate a lot of the pertinent themes that Fences is based upon — such as questions of race and justice (Burbank 118), the assertion of autonomy and manhood, and the pursuit of life and its ravager, death.
Cory and Troy are embroiled in a prolonged conflict for the vast majority of Fences, largely due to the fact that the former wishes to pursue an opportunity to play collegiate football against the wishes of the latter. In this respect, it is fairly apparent that Troy is still bitter about his experience playing baseball in the Negro leagues, and was not allowed to play major league baseball because of restrictions against African-Americans. Despite the fact that such restrictions for playing professional sports based on race have been removed during the time period in which Fences takes place, Troy still does not want his son to pursue football because of the limitations of the former’s sports career. This conflict between these two players is facilitated through the motif of sports, which the following quotation demonstrates.
Cory: The Braves got Han Aaron and Wes Covington. Hank Aaron hit two home runs today. That makes forty — three.
Troy: Hank Aaron ain’t nobody. (Wilson 1986).
The conflict and tension that characterizes the relationship between Troy and Cory is effectively illustrated by this quotation. Cory is essentially alluding to the fact that African-Americans are able to play sports (and baseball in particular, his father’s former sports) at the highest professional level in the United States. The implications of this quotation, of course, are that Cory should earn a collegiate scholarship to play football because the racial restrictions on sports that affected his father’s career are no longer in place. Yet Troy’s resistance to both his son and his son’s wishes to play professional sports are evinced in his disparaging of Hank Aaron, who Troy states “ain’t nobody.” This discussion about the professional sports that is going on at the time during which Fences is set shows that one of the central elements of the plot of this play, Wilson and try’s conflicts over Troy’s collegiate pursuit of a football career, is illustrated to the reader through the means of sports.
In many ways, Troy’s attitude of defiance towards the football aspirations of his son characterizes his attitude of defiance towards life in general. Due to the fact that Troy was not able to play baseball professionally at the highest level, one of the major themes of Fences is his dissatisfaction of his own life (Gantt 10). This dissatisfaction is evinced through the acts of infidelity he commits against Rose, through the tension and animosity he bears towards his children (both Cory and, to a lesser extent, his other son Lyons), as well as the sense of disillusionment that colors his own self-perceptions as a garbage man who was good enough to, but prevented from playing professional baseball. Again, this attitude of defiance that is an integral part of Troy’s characterization is elucidated most clearly through the motif of sports, and perhaps most poignantly by a metaphor invoking baseball, as the following quotation evinces. “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner” (Wilson 1986). This quotation not only illustrates Troy’s attitude of defiance towards life (which is exemplified by his disdain for death, which represents the ultimate disregard for life itself), but it is also highly indicative of the way that Troy thinks and views his life and the circumstances around him. He actually thinks in terms of sports (and in terms of baseball in particular), which is why the diction of this quotation is particularly important. Similar to the quotation in the preceding passage Troy dismisses death as “nothing” — a fact which means the life that death will end “ain’t nothing” as well. Troy is of course talking about his own life, which has been jaded by racial barriers and conflicts between him and those he should value most, his family. Therefore, this passage indicates that the growing sense of disillusionment which characterizes Troy’s life largely hinges upon the motif of sports — much like all other important themes in this play. Significantly, Troy’s courtship of death is resolved in the final act of the play, in a scene in which many of the other acts all crescendo towards (Dobie 40).
Another integral aspect of the plot of Fences is Troy’s infidelity to Rose that results in the birth of a child who he sires with another woman. This act of infidelity further alienates Troy from his family — in particular it alienates him from Rose — and does not endear him to Cory and to his other son. What is one of the most significant aspects of this fact, however, is that sports and baseball is the primary way that Troy views this act of indiscretion on his part, which is suggested by the following quotation in which he attempts to tell Rose that he is fathering someone else’s child. “Then when I saw that gal. . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried. . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second” (Wilson 70). This quotation underscores how central a motif baseball is to the most important events in the plot of Fences. Once again, Troy invokes a metaphor with baseball to describe a central theme in this story — his alienation from his family which spurs his own growing discontent with himself. The fact that the woman he is unfaithful with “firmed” up his stature and his character, alludes to the fact that for a long time before cheating on Rose “eighteen years,” Troy was unhappy with his life and the relative quiescence he endured that is attributed to his inability to play in the major leagues and his relative lowly status as a city employee. Troy implicitly admits to the wrong he committed by cheating on Rose by likening it to “stealing,” yet the connotations of this choice of diction also imply an excitement and recrudescence on his part that such an illicit act (in view of its consequences with his union to Rose) engendered within him. Once again, sports and baseball prove to be the central motif that elucidates the other themes of Fences and explains the nature of the protagonist, Troy.
A comprehensive review of the various important facets of the plot of Fences and the themes explored within this work indicate that sports is the primary motif that the other important notions of this play are based upon. Troy’s defiance of life and the repercussions of death, his conflict with Cory regarding his anticipated career path as a football player, and his incorrigible behavior that leads to a growing sense of disillusionment about his self are all primarily delivered to the reader in relationship to various aspects of sports and to baseball, in particular.
Burbank, Sergei. “The Shattered Mirror: What August Wilson Means and Willed to Mean.” College Literature 36.2 (2009): 117-29. Print
Dobie, Ann B., ed. Theory Into Practice: An Introduction to Literary Criticism. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. 2009. Print
Gantt, Patricia M. “Putting Black Culture on Stage: August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle.” College Literature 36.2 (2009): 1-25. Print
Gilmour, Nathan. “Troy Maxson Goes To Heaven.” The Christian Humanist. 2010. Web. http://www.christianhumanist.org/chb/2010/11/troy-maxson-goes-to-heaven/
Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume. 1986. Print.
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