Fences by August Wilson: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Act One
  • 2:07 Act Two
  • 4:06 Analysis
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Damon Barta

Damon has taught college English and has an MA in literature.

This lesson will provide a scene-by-scene summary of August Wilson's play 'Fences' (1986) and give a brief analysis of the multiple meanings of the fences to which the title refers.

Act One

Scene One

The play begins by introducing its central character, Troy Maxson, a large, thick, black man of 53 years and his long-time friend Bono. The year is 1957, and the two are garbage collectors that have come to Troy's yard on Friday, payday, to talk and drink. We learn that Troy is a hard worker and that he used to be a talented baseball player. Troy's wife, Rose, comes out as she is preparing supper and tells Troy that their son Cory is being recruited by colleges for football. Troy is skeptical. Troy's other son from a previous relationship, Lyons, comes by to borrow money. Troy is also skeptical of his pursuit of music.

Scene Two

The scene opens with Rose singing about Jesus as a 'fence' that protects her. Troy joins her for breakfast and complains that Cory is at football practice instead of helping him build a fence around the yard. Gabriel, Troy's younger brother, shows up and tells them that he found his own place. Gabriel was injured in WWII and he now believes that he is the angel Gabriel. He carries a trumpet with him and a basket of fruit that he sells for a living. We learn that Troy was only able to afford the house they live in because of money Gabriel got for his injury.

Scene Three

Troy and Cory cut wood for the fence. Cory mentions baseball, and Troy talks about how teams don't play their 'colored' players. Cory mentions some black players who do play, and Troy tells Cory that he hit seven home runs off at Satchel Paige in the Negro Leagues. Troy tells Cory he must quit football so he can focus on his job and school. They argue. Cory leaves and Rose enters. She tells Troy to let up on him and reminds him that the world is different than it used to be and that he doesn't need to be so hard on his son.

Scene Four

It is Friday again. We learn that Troy has been promoted to truck driver at his work. Lyons comes over to pay Troy back, but he won't accept the money. Troy tells him about his youth and we learn that Troy went to prison for 15 years, which is why he never got the chance to play pro baseball. He had a hard youth and his father was abusive. Cory comes home upset because Troy has told his coach that he can no longer play football.

Act Two

Scene One

Cory tells Rose he's not quitting the football team. Troy bails Gabriel out of jail, where he had been due to charges of disturbing the peace. Troy and Bono saw wood for the fence. Bono hints that he knows Troy has been cheating with a woman named Alberta and warns Troy not to mess things up with Rose. Troy agrees that Rose is a good woman, but admits that he is seeing Alberta. We learn that Rose wanted the fence around the yard. Troy tells Rose that he and Alberta are expecting a baby. They fight. Troy grabs Rose roughly and Cory walks in. Cory attacks Troy, and Troy warns him off.

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