Fences by August Wilson: Insight into an Ordinary Man's Life

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One of the hallmarks of good plays is their timelessness. Well-scripted plays tend to endure for very long periods and to remain relevant in their portrayal of the issues that affect people in their everyday lives, as well as to address themes that remain pertinent to society despite the passage of time. August Wilson’s Fences is one such play, and it successfully highlights the experiences of African Americans in the 1950s and explores the relationships among the minority Black community in the pre-Civil Rights era. Fences is relevant even in a modern context because of its intimate portrayal of the difficulties of life as part of a marginalized and underprivileged community. Fences is especially popular in the modern era because of the author’s attention to detail, and the subtle but incredibly effective use of literary devices to enhance the themes of the play. By using a relatable protagonist who audiences can easily relate to, and through the use of complementary literary devices that enhance the story in Fences, August Wilson successfully crafts a classic play that has endured different time contexts and continues to be relevant in the prevailing social environment today.

One of the reasons for the immense success of Fences is the use of a relatable protagonist whose perspective the play hinges upon. Fences is based on the life of Troy Maxon, an African American whose interactions with his family form the crux of the events depicted in the play. The play does not spend too much time building a context at the beginning; instead, the author makes use of foreshadowing and conflict during the initial stages to make the play captivating and intriguing. Troy comes off as a bitter individual who laments about the unfairness that he has undergone in his life, and the fact that he has not accomplished what he thought he would. Like any ordinary person, Troy makes some good and bad decisions in the course of his life, both of which have a bearing on his ultimate plight. This makes the play very relatable to ordinary people beyond the African American demographic that is the predominant subject.

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However, the play is especially relevant to African Americans because it accurately depicts the state of life within the community during the 1950s, at a time when the welfare of black people was gradually improving, but during which African Americans still had to endure a lot of discrimination and injustice in society. For instance, when Bono remarks, “Well, as long as you got your complaint filed, they can't fire you. That's what one of them white fellows tell me ” ( Wilson 2),there is a clear ascription of the superiority of white people in the society, which is certainly not the case in the modern era. Moreover, when Troy laments, “I'm talking about if you could play ball then they ought to have let you play. Don't care what color you were' (Wilson 10), it emerges that African Americans faced discrimination even in sports, and that they had access to fewer opportunities and social privileges than the white majority. In an overall sense, Fences highlights the fact that African Americans had to contend with a lot of suffering in the pre-Civil Rights Movement era, and that even though there was an air of relative contentment within the community, the welfare of African Americans during the 1950s, as highlighted in Fences, was much worse compared to the modern situation.

Besides the use of a strong main character who presents a relatable personal and social context to the audience, Wilson also makes subtle but very effective use of several literary devices in Fences, all of which unite to make the play memorable and impressionable, and which had a great bearing on the great success of the play. In particular, the unity of literary devices such as metaphors and symbolism combine to keep the play flowing, and to keep the audience in anticipation of what is likely to follow each event.

One of the most significant metaphors in Fences is the term “fences” itself. The fence represents a separation between the marginalized and underprivileged African American community and the rest of society in the play. During the 1950s, African Americans comprised the lowest social class in the United States, and were subject to discriminative laws such as segregation, especially in the South. However, life was difficult even in the North where many African Americans migrated to in search of better prospects, only to find that their plight there was not much better than it had been in the South. The fence is a metaphor that refers to the isolation and marginalization of the African American community from the rest of society. One notable significant symbolic event in the play is when Troy asks why African Americans are never allowed to drive trash trucks. Troy explains, “I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, 'Why? Why you got white mens driving and the colored lifting?” (Wilson 02). This move, while seemingly logical in modern society, would have risked him getting fired in the 1950s, when the play is set. However, the brevity of Troy’s actions implies that the welfare of African Americans in the play is improved, even though Troy himself does not appreciate the significance of his actions saying, “All I want them to do is change the job description. Give everybody a chance to drive the truck.' (Wilson 3).

Wilson’s Fences is immensely popular and successful because of the intimate insight that the play provides into the inner struggles of the main character and the African American community. The play appeals to a very broad demographic because of its depiction of the relatable protagonist beyond his African American identity. Furthermore, Wilson’s subtle use of metaphor and symbolism in the play makes it very impressionable, captivating and insightful to the audience. The effective utilization of literary devices and a protagonist who audiences can easily empathize with combine to make Fences a successful and timeless play.

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Fences by August Wilson: Insight into an Ordinary Man’s Life. (2020, September 04). WritingBros. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/fences-by-august-wilson-insight-into-an-ordinary-mans-life/
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Fences by August Wilson: Insight into an Ordinary Man’s Life. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/fences-by-august-wilson-insight-into-an-ordinary-mans-life/> [Accessed 25 Jun. 2024].
Fences by August Wilson: Insight into an Ordinary Man’s Life [Internet]. WritingBros. 2020 Sept 04 [cited 2024 Jun 25]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/fences-by-august-wilson-insight-into-an-ordinary-mans-life/
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