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Question: At the opening of act I, scene 2, Rose is hanging up clothes in the early morning, humming and singing to herself. Her song imploring Jesus to “be a fence all around me everyday” reflects one of the play’s important themes. How do different characters relate to and define fences? Whom do fences keep out, and whom do they enclose? Consider also how fences relate to baseball. Explain why this is an appropriate title for the play.
"Fences" by August Wilson is a powerful play that delves into the dynamics of an African American family in the 1950s and explores the theme of barriers - both physical and metaphorical - through its strong and well-developed characters. As an appropriate title for the play, "Fences" exemplifies various relationships and boundaries that the characters grapple with throughout the story. Let's analyze how these fences manifest in the lives of the key characters and in the context of baseball. 1. Troy Maxson, the protagonist, is a former Negro League baseball star who serves as one of the primary representations of fences in the play. At the opening, Rose's song is a direct foreshadowing of her need for protection from the figurative fences Troy puts up around himself, which keep others at a distance. One of these is his bitterness about being sidelined from major league baseball due to racism, despite his talent and accomplishments. This bitterness is passed on to his son Cory, who then encounters his own fences when Troy prevents him from pursuing football, fearing the same discriminatory treatment. 2. Rose, Troy's wife, faces her own unique set of challenges. For her, fences represent a sort of security and control over her life. Her song emphasizes how fences are meant to keep her safe and secure from harm. However, Rose's desire for protection is stifled when Troy's past affairs come to light, and she feels betrayed and trapped within the marriage. This reveals that fences, while meant to offer protection, can also inadvertently create pain and suffering when they are utilized for control and manipulation. 3. For Gabriel, Troy's brother, fences are connected to the idea of freedom. Gabriel's mental disabilities and resulting vulnerability make him susceptible to being taken advantage of by others. Troy's decision to place him in a mental institution is presented as an attempt to "protect" him, but it also serves as a way for Troy to distance himself from the emotional burden of caregiving. In this sense, fences keep Gabriel contained and limit his opportunities for independence. 4. Lastly, considering the connection between fences and baseball, the sport is often used as an extended metaphor throughout the play. Baseball serves as a lens through which the characters navigate their struggles, successes, and hopes. For example, Troy uses baseball terminology when discussing death, and his past as a baseball player contributes significantly to his motivations and actions. In the broader context of African American history, "Fences" reflects on the real barriers faced by black athletes during the segregation era and how these racial divides extended to other aspects of their lives. In conclusion, the title "Fences" is highly appropriate for the play as it highlights the various aspects of barriers that the characters encounter - from protection and control to containment and segregation. By exploring these concepts through the lives of Troy, Rose, Cory, and Gabriel, as well as in the wider context of baseball, the play offers a profound and insightful commentary on the human experience, the consequences of systemic racism, and the struggles that come with building and maintaining relationships.
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