Fences by August Wilson is a play about life, death, and family. The main character, Troy Maxson, is in a constant back and forth with death, which he has personified into a real person. In the play, Fences, August Wilson uses the conflict of death to drive the other conflicts and elements of the story as evidenced by Troy’s conflict within himself.
First, understanding August Wilson’s life gives the play more clarity. He was born Frederick August Kittel in 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In an article called “August Wilson” published by the Encyclopedia Britannica, it states, “Wilson grew up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, a lively poor neighbourhood that became the setting for most of his plays. Together with five siblings, he was raised by his mother, Daisy Wilson, after his father, Frederick August Kittel, left her and their children.” It goes on to describe how Wilson dealt with living in the predominantly white town of Hazelwood after his mother remarried and they moved. He was accused of plagiarism at school, which caused him to drop out, and his family was targeted for racial threats. He uses Fences to bring more light to challenging issues like race. An article called “Wilson, August” published in Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, it states “In 1987, Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for Fences (1985), a play about the struggles in 1957 of a black sanitation worker earlier denied a chance to play major league baseball.” Fences became one of Wilson’s most recognized work and to this day, continues to be used in the classroon.
Moreover, the main character of this play, Troy Maxson, considered death to be a part of what he describes as a baseball game of life. He gives various descriptions of how death came and fought with him. Death is one of his insecurities. As he ages, he feels death creeping up on him and in a way, clings onto his youth. In order to feel young again, he engages in an affair with a younger woman callled Alberta. Death strikes Troy again, resulting in the death of his mistress during childbirth. Not only does the affair cause conflict with Rose, but the death of Alberta also causes inner conflict. He feels guilty, and that death is punishing him by killing Alberta. At this point in the play, he makes a deal with death. “Ain’t nobody else got nothing to do with this. This is between you and me. Man to man. You stay on the other side of that fence until you ready for me.” (Wilson, 1985, Act 2, Scene 3, Line 108). The fence is a symbol. It represents how he is insecure about death. He put up these figurative fences for protection. It leaves the reader with a transparent image of a man who is aggressive and fears nothing in life, except death.
Additionally, Rose’s childhood was also filled with uncertainty. Her father was a drifter who went from place to place starting a new family everywhere he went so that it got to the point where each of her stepbrothers and sisters had a different mother. This was the basis for her insecurity and possessiveness of her own family. If Troy could change anything about his life, clearly his baseball experience is what he would change. The past is unchanging and fixed like the inevitability of death. This is the symbolic significance of death for Troy and serves as an interpretation of Troy’s stories about the character of death.
To conclude, Troy claims he can change the nature and defeat death. This power remains central to Troy’s deepest emotions even as he does fail to change himself and fails to avoid the unfortunate repetition of history by losing his son. Thus, unable to change and accept his evident limitations, Troy maintains his symbolic “vigilance” against death and continues to strive for superiority over it, failing to achieve either emotional maturity or humility.