QUESTION: Fences is about the American dream--the idea that with hard work and dedication, people can achieve a comfortable, even prosperous and successful, lifestyle. What elements of the American dream do you see in Act One, and what do you think the play says about the American dream?
By Lisa Bauman
The strongest statement that the play says about the American dream is that although things have changed, blacks still do not get to participate in it. The play shows this through Troy's stories. No matter how hard he works, his wants and dreams are just not in the cards.
Though Troy' friend Bono is more optimistic, he still struggles to believe that the American dream could possibly include the black community. He admitted that "To this day I wonder why I stayed there for six long years. But see, I didn't know I could do no better. I thought only white folks had inside toilets and things (Jacobus 882)."
First Troy tells about the job descriptions available to blacks at his own place of employment. "Brownie don't understand nothing. All I want them to do is change the job description. Give everybody a chance to drive the truck. Brownie can't see that (Jacobus 881)."
Troy is clearly jaded with his inability to achieve his dream, especially in baseball. He said: "What it ever get me? Ain't got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of (Jacobus 883)." Troy elaborated his inability to achieve his dream by explaining how white players with less ability have been admitted into baseball, and even praised for their abilities, when black players with more talent are denied entry into the game. He sees this as an extreme injustice. "Come telling me I come along too early. If you could play . . . then they ought to have let you play (Jacobus 883)."
"ROSE: Times have changed since you was playing baseball. Troy, that was before the war. Times have changed a lot since then.
TROY: How in the hell have they changed?
ROSE: They got lots of colored boys playing ball now. Baseball and football.
BONO: You right about that, Rose. Times have changed, Troy. You just come along too early.
TROY: There ought not never have been no time called too early! (Jacobus 883)"
Troy wants his son Cory to find a job that will provide him an income rather than help him achieve some unattainable dream. After Troy was denied a career in baseball because of his ethnicity, he decided that Cory should not waste his time trying to succeed in his "American dream" of becoming a football player. Troy said "I told that boy about football stuff. The man [white people] ain't gonna let him get nowhere with that football." and "It ain't gonna get him nowhere. Bono'll tell you that (Jacobus 882-883)."
Even Lyons, his oldest son, mimics his attitude. Troy sees the benefit of working hard. He gets something for it, but he can never achieve his dream. Lyons has decided that success is just finding something that makes him feel good. He refuses to work hard for a dream because the effort will produce little benefit.
"I know I got to eat. But I got to live too. I need something thats gonna help me get out of the bed in the morning. Make me feel like I belong in the world. I don't bother nobody. I just stay with my music because that is the only way I can find to live in the world. Otherwise there ain't no telling what I might do (Jacobus 885)."
Jacobus, Lee. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Drama. 6th. Boston, NY: Bedford's/St. Martin's, 2009. 876-886. Print.
David Wobler. FENCES by August Wilson. 2009. Photograph. www.flicker.com, Performance Network Theatre . Web. 30 Nov 2011.
** A play review for ENG105, Introduction to Drama, Fall Term 2011, Portland Community College