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Fences - August Wilson

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Genre: Fiction / Author: August Wilson / Edition: Reissue / Paperback / 128 Pages / Book is published 1995-03 by Penguin Books Ltd

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      21.03.2009 00:28
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      BRILLIANT!

      'Fences' was written by the prolific African-American playwright named August Wilson. The play is set in 1957 and sits on the brink of the civil rights movement of equality of race and legal freedom of the African Americans. Troy had been exploited by the white-dominated sports industry; discriminated for the colour of his skin, even though he was a talented, young athlete that was headed for stardom. After a futile hope of success, he still felt an overwhelming sense of duty as a father and husband to provide for his family, and so resigned to working as a garbage man. As an attempt to escape from his oppressed and trapped conscience, he applies numerous coping mechanisms to his life. However, his obstinate and bitter character to his unjust upbringing, skews his vision on what it takes to be a genuinely good husband and father and soon leads to the most devastating consequences.

      The play immediately acclimates us to the protagonists world and his unrelenting strong-minded persona which is extremely engaging. Bono visits Troy each payday for their ritual booze sesh and catching up. In this exposition of dialogue, Wilson craftily foreshadows many elements of plot and messages to come. Troy rancorously rants about the unfair, oppressive work conditions of Black men being garbage collectors, boisterously condemning his employer for giving the white people an easier ride for driving the garbage trucks. Troy is resolute to cause a commotion about this, but isn't hopeful and accepts the possibility with being fired. Later though we see him getting the role of a garbage truck driver. Troy's perceptions and tenacious persistence of opinion of a forever scrupulous and prejudice society are challenged, and become a recurring motif throughout the play which illustrates a changing and more accepting society. There were many times when i desperately wanted to slap Troy across the face and give him a damn reality check!

      Bono then sinuously inquires about Troy's close rapport with a woman named Alberta. Wilson induces the reader with a surge of suspense, as we are eager to find out more about Troy and Alberta's conspicuous relationship. For now however, Bono silences his pressing questions due to the arrival of Rose, Troy's wife. Rose is an extremely loyal wife who has stuck with Troy through thick and thin- even his fifteen years in prison and his annoying rants. Rose interjects Troy's incessant elaborate, fabricated stories, including his struggle with the 'Devil', claiming that he is talking out of his arse. Although Troy, like always tenaciously refutes that he is wrong and Rose loyally backs down.

      Opposed to this, Troy mocks Rose's 'playing numbers' and obstinately speaks of how gambling is a monumental waste of time, even though her gambling is a form of escapism which is parallel to his elaborate fantasies and soon revealed affair with Alberta. Troy is so egotistic and wrapped up within his own forms of escapism on how to survive within his stagnant, dull life, that he is negligent to his families coping mechanisms. It is this ironic ignorance which causes devastating repercussions later on and of which Rose will spitefully accuse him of 'taking and not giving'. Throughout this, Troy speaks of finishing the fence he is building- but he never seems to get around to it.

      Troy's amusingly eccentric brother, Gabriel, is Wilson's device to symbolise the absurdity of African American life in America. Wilson illustrates the common theme of African American literature which depicts that the government which is supposed to represent it's citizens, has a strong history of denying you your human rights due to the extremities of prejudice- and therefore living in a perpetual states of 'absurdity'. Gabriel is a character device to perfectly illustrate this duality of being a citizen, but consequence of the colour of his skin, not having the rights of an actual citizen. Gabriel honourably fought for his country in the war and tragically lost part of his brain. Irrespective of the countless contributions of black people however, his brother Troy was discriminatively denied access to play baseball in the Major Leagues, merely because of the colour of his skin. Troy's thwarted dreams of being a successful baseball player, therefore provide a deeper insight into his bitter nature. Troy's life was stunted with the realisation his dreams were over, but times have changed and his son, Cory has a great chance of hitting the big-time as a baseball player. This of course devastates him.

      Gabe's character is reminiscent to that of the 'wise fool' in Shakespeare, whose jester like and often nonsensical language, is perceived as incoherent to the characters in the play, but often provide a deep insight and wisdom. Gabe seems to drift fluidly from imagination to reality, at one point even speaking about seeing Troy and Rose's names in different places in St. Peter's book- symbolising that Troy is a sinner and that Rose is going to heaven. Wilson uses Gabe's fantasies and the song, 'Better Get Ready For the Judgment' as a device to warn Troy of his scrupulous life and offers him a chance to repent before it is too late. Troy's ego is severely bruised with the notion that he would not have a roof over his head if it weren't for using Gabe's compensation money from his horrific war injuries. This inability to control his fate with his career and now his own survival, all contributes to his misanthrope attitude to life.

      Despite Gabe's warnings, Troy continues to see Alberta and disparages Cory's dreams of being a successful baseball player. This perpetual inability to control his very existence, influences his power over Cory and Troy mocks his dreams and demands him to work due to his own experience of being rejected due to being a black man. Even being promoted from a garbage collector to a driver after claiming that it would never happen to a Black man, he still cannot see that society is changing and Cory will not be discriminated in baseball for the colour of his skin like he was.

      Amongst the sudden change of promotion, the habitual meeting on payday between Troy and Bono resumes as normal. Troy frequently deprecates Lyon's passion (his other son) of jazz music. Unlike Cory however, Lyon is free-spirited and won't live in the shadow of his father's skewed and obstinate perceptions of the world. Lyon is older than Cory and didn't grow up with his father due to him being in prison for most of his childhood. Cory's dutiful language in repetitively calling Troy 'sir' and his evident tentativeness around him, illustrates how it may have been more beneficial for Lyon to have not grown up with Troy because of his overpowering tyranny. Lyon chases after his dreams but Cory's dreams are stunted due to his father's control.

      The fence that Troy intends to build serves as both a literal and figurative device. Rose wants the fence build to provide a sense of comforting security; an enclosure to keep her loved ones close to her. Therefore the fence is a symbol of her love and her nurturing nature. Bono speaks of how the fence keeps people in, but simultaneously pushes people away, sinuously suggesting that he is pushing Rose further away from him by cheating on her. The unfinished fence is a symbol of this broken family and Troy's forever unchanging opinions, even when he is confronting with the truth of a changing world. The infernal truth is, that Troy can't accept his stagnant fate whilst Cory relishes in stardom and he tries to block out the truth by living a mendacious dual life.

      Of course, his dark secrets start to unravel and what follows are explosive feuds and a tragic ending which will stay with you long after you have read this play. August Wilson provides the natural idiom of African American's of the 1950's and the language is extremely witty. He has a eminent talent for depicting the natural course of speech, yet playing with language in a shrewd manner and in effect providing us with sharp lines and fascinating dialogue with underlying elaborate messages. The play perfectly depicts the change in society's extreme prejudices and the civil rights movement- for some, however, it was a little too late. Troy's dreams were thwarted and destroyed and so was his spirit, propelling him into the bitter, angry man he became. I have yet to watch the play- but I would definitely not pass up the chance to see this. A truly great read.

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