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Fences By August Wilson, Essay Example

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Essay

August Wilson’s Fences places a great deal of importance on the underlying setting and themes that are within the play.  These elements help to illustrate the nature of this play in particular, as well as reveal two of the most important elements of the drama in literature.  As it can be seen within the drama, the setting and underlying themes go hand-in-hand in its development.

Setting

The setting of Fences can be found in the 1950’s, between the Korean and Vietnam wars.  The play begins in 1957 and ends in 1965.  This setting is used to help identify the consciousness of blacks in this timeline.  Thus, Wilson uses Troy as a tragic character to illustrate those who do not take an aggressive approach to the opportunities that are beginning to appear for blacks.  It should be noted that Troy’s last name is a reference to the Mason-Dixon line, which represents Troy’s life in the north and history in the south, which defines his character.

The historical setting of the play also takes place in another underling background, in that of baseball.  Fences begins in the same season that Hank Aaron leads the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series Championship, in 1957, which would be his only title.  In this era blacks are able to not only compete with whites in various settings, such as the workplace, but lead others.  This important setting is used in the play to illustrate the characters’ conflicting viewpoints regarding what they are able to do and accomplish.

Changing the Setting

Changing the setting would drastically alter the background and timeframe upon which Wilson builds the characters and black consciousness.  As Anne Fleche has observed, “Wilson’s plays set up duels between dual forces representing the conflict between going over old ground and starting new” (Nadel, 1993, p. 10).  By instituting a change, it is easy to see how such dynamics can become easily altered and transformed.

Changing the Setting: Time

If we were to alter the historical background of Fences by changing it to a different timeframe, it could be seen how such dynamics could be changed quite drastically.  If the play occurred in the Harlem Renaissance, for instance, the historical impact on the black consciousness would have been much different. Wilson utilizes the nature of a newer black consciousness that is developed in the 1950’s, such as what was explained with Hank Aaron.  The Harlem Renaissance would paint a completely different picture, which would not allow for the same impact of the primary tragic character.  The Harlem Renaissance was not a time in which blacks sought new opportunities to lead in the workforce.  Ordinary blacks would not be allowed to join sports teams or drive garbage trucks, at the very least.

Changing the Setting: Location

Imagine that the play was changed in location, from Pittsburgh to a southern town in Alabama, for instance.  This simple change would quite simple render some themes in the play incompatible, as Wilson has utilized opportunities available to blacks only in the free states.  Wilson’s portrayal of the opportunities for blacks sets the stage for the dramatic and tragic development of the characters.  In one of the slave states, this hypothetical change would not allow for many events in the text to give any meaning.  The characters are reacting from a history of slavery, not still living within it (Shannon, 2003, p. 8).  Additionally, many events would not be logical, for historical reasons.

Underlying Theme

The major theme of the play involves the manhood of blacks within the historical condition.  This “coming of age” of the black mentality is seen as a point in which the characters are developed within the play.  From the actual plot to the development of characters in the historical backdrop, the black mentality is shaped according to all of these factors.

Historical Setting

Although this has already been discussed in some detail, it is important to touch on the historical nature of the black consciousness.  Troy and Bono represent a group of blacks who resort to stealing and living in shacks or jail.  This links helps Wilson to argue for the damaged black consciousness or manhood, which is linked to the current historical background of blacks living in the United States.

Wilson uses the characters to paint a picture of how black men have difficulties surviving with few resources, in this competitive society.  While opportunities are growing in the black population, those from the previous generation continue to struggle.  The characters that Wilson creates argue that the United States failed blacks.  While slavery was abolished, items like the Jim Crow laws maintained inequality and provided for the suffering of blacks, and the black manhood in which Troy and Wilson are affected.

This changing landscape also contrasts the black manhood.  As opportunities are evolving for black men, such as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, those unfamiliar in this changing landscape are struggling to adapt.  The black manhood is in a state of advancement, yet for many in this time period, it is not that simple.

Characters

The manhood expressed in Troy and Bono represent two characters that had a damaged manhood.  The black manhood that is expressed particularly through these characters, and others such as Lyons and Cory, is one that is damaged.  These men attempt to become a man in light of the examples before them.

Troy

After Troy’s father beat him and raped a girl that he was with when Troy was fourteen, Troy leaves home to be on his own.  Believing that he is a man at this point, his damaged manhood is seen through the effects of his reaction to his father.  Troy becomes the provider for his family as his father had, yet he finds no sense of manhood other than in a sense of responsibility, and to these reactions of his upbringing.

Troy’s development can thus be seen in the historical black manhood and in that of his own.  Troy is unable to evolve with the changing opportunities in the black landscape in the United States, as many in this generation.  Additionally, Troy’s tragic character finds no true manhood, as he finds identity in the reactions to his father’s damaged manhood.

Bono

On a separate yet similar level, Bono wasn’t able to establish a sense of manhood either, as affected from his father.  He never knew his father, and was not able to recognize him.  Thus, Bono never received any form of a fathering role from his father.  Whereas Troy was able to utilize some aspect of a positive manhood, Bono had to develop his own (damaged) manhood.

Bono’s father however did impact one decision Bono made in his life.  Bono chose not to father children, so that he would never abandon one of his children as his father had.  He was also loyal to his wife.  Bono was forced to establish a sense of manhood through the effects and lack of impact of his own father whom he did not know.

Conclusively the impact of these chief themes on the black manhood, and of blacks in this part of history, had a profound influence on the dynamics of the play.  They also helped establish and leverage the truly dramatic and tragic elements of the play.  These historical and direct elements of the play are the sources of the play’s dramatic themes.

References

Nadel, A. (Ed.). (1993). May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.

Shannon, S. (2003). August Wilson’s Fences: A Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Wilson, A.  (2010). Fences (86th ed.).  New York City, NY: Samuel French, Inc. (Original work published 1983).

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