Play Fences by August Wilson Research Paper

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Racial discrimination is defined as an act that deals with considering a person differently based from that person’s race (Bell). Based on this definition, it does not seem something serious, but what happened during the 1920s in America aroused a new act against the right of people to equality. It was in 1920 that racial discrimination started when the dominant White-Anglo Saxon Protestants wanted to preserve their culture with much power; the minorities such as the Mexicans, the Orientals and most especially the blacks (Africans) suffered from the hands of these people (Racial Discrimination in America During the 1920s). It was obvious that because the White-Anglo Saxon Protestant people had much power and most probably had more money, they took advantage of such power and wealth to be able to go ahead of the other race. This event started issues such as inequality, segregation and slavery. More than any other minority group, the blacks or the Africans suffered more from racial discrimination. But it was during the 1950s that the blacks already started to gain equality with the other people in society. Little by little, the black race started to step up and fight for their right for equality. It was also during this century that set the setting for the well known play “Fences” by August Wilson. The play “Fences” was written by Wilson to portray the life that African American people were experiencing after the racial tensions that happened over the past years. Amongst other issues discussed in the play, the most common and evident theme was about racial discrimination and how the characters in the play experienced it and affected their lives.

“Fences” is a play written by August Wilson that aims to present to audience what life was like for the African American society. The setting of the play took place at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the Maxsons, an African American family, resides. The problem that arose in the family happened during the time when Rose asked Troy to build a fence around their house.  It was in their house where the story of the play developed. “Fences” is a story about how Troy Maxson, the protagonist in the play, suffered from the experiences that he had during the times when discrimination against his race dominated the minds of people. It was because of his tragic experiences of violence and failure that he became what he is now, an unfaithful husband to his wife and a violent father to his son. He became unfaithful because of an affair that he had which led him to father the child of Alberta. Their affair produced Raynell; though he was an illegitimate son of Troy, Rose, Troy’s wife, accepted the baby to their family because of the death of Alberta during child birth (SparkNotes Editors). The story revolved around the relationship of Troy not only to his wife but most especially his relationship with his son Cory Maxson. Cory now lived in a world where the African American communities were making their way into equality, viewing life now much differently compared to how his father viewed it during his time. Cory was just like his father in a sense that both of them loved sports. Troy before was on top of his career as a baseball player when the segregation amongst the races started and eventually he had to be taken out of the team not because he did not have talent but because of the color of his skin. The debate on whether Cory would pursue football or not started the whole conflict between both of them. Troy’s experience of discrimination made him push Cory not to pursue such dreams. But for Cory, he now saw how different the status of their race was in society. He saw how segregation among different races had now been eliminated and saw this as a chance to pursue his dream. Troy became violent to Cory because he was going against the wishes of his father. Because of this Cory, left home and joined the Marines (SparkNotes Editors). Years passed and finally Cory came home; he came home to attend a funeral, the funeral of his father.

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The play “Fences” more than anything else shows the effect of racism on people and families alike. Troy Maxson, the protagonist in the play, was said to have lived in an era where racial discrimination against the minorities started. Before, he lived a life that was centered on his love for sports, playing baseball; he even mentioned that baseball was something that he was most proud of (SparkNotes Editors). But because of racism, especially against the blacks, segregation happened and it eventually made him leave the sport that he truly loved. It was during this time that segregation amongst people with different colors of skin took place. It was not only in sports that this was experienced by African American people. This segregation even happened in education. George W. McLaurin was one of the many African Americans who was denied of obtaining an education just because of the color of his skin (“A Century of Racial Segregation: “With an Even Hand”: Brown v. Board at Fifty”). It was in 1948 when McLaurin enrolled and wanted to take up an advanced degree in education (“A Century of Racial Segregation: “With an Even Hand”: Brown v. Board at Fifty”). Because he enrolled at a white-dominated university, his application was rejected because the university did not allow blacks and whites to be in the same university. The decision of the university to deny his application made McLaurin file a complaint against this particular university and won (“A Century of Racial Segragation: “With an Even Hand”: Brown v. Board at Fifty”). Even though Mc Laurin won and was allowed to attend classes, he was still not allowed to attend his classes together with his other classmates. He was stationed in an anteroom of his classroom. In this case, we can see how racism and segregation took a toll on the lives of the African American people. Troy Maxson, in the play “Fences” experienced the same thing as McLaurin experienced at school, that is, being disregarded only because of the color of their skin. More than segregation, the African Americans also experienced unequal opportunity especially in the work place.

Racial discrimination against the African American people not only eliminated them from society but also provided them with limited opportunity in the work place. The issue of equal opportunity could be seen in the play “Fences” from the character of Troy Maxson. Troy Maxson, from a baseball player, ended up as a mere garbage collector. Being a garbage collector was the only job that he could do; he was not even allowed to drive the garbage trucks because according to their boss, black employees were not allowed to drive the garbage trucks (SparkNotes Editors). This situation of Troy started when racial discrimination dominated the society. Before racial discrimination started, especially against his race, he had the best career as a baseball player. But because the blacks were limited to join leagues such as these, he continued on as a garbage collector. Here, we can see how Troy experienced limited opportunities available for him just because of the color of his skin. The limitation of his job as a garbage collector only showed how low the job opportunities were available for people like him. From cleaning houses to shining shoes, these were some of the jobs offered to African Americans during their time (Alchura). This shows that the only jobs available for African Americans mirror how people at that time see them, a people who are at the same level as that of their jobs. Racial discrimination showed how the whites provided limited access to jobs among the inferior blacks in society (“Race”). Years passed and the discrimination got worst, which was why in 1950s, people of color started to fight for their right to be equal with the whites.

It was in 1950 that the blacks started to stand up and fight for their rightful place in society. People of color saw how society treated them differently that it gave them limitations especially in education. In the play “Fences” Troy Maxson also fought to have equal opportunity in the work place. He filed a complaint because he did not see why blacks were not permitted to drive garbage trucks. He won the case and was assigned as one of the first African Americans in their city to drive a garbage truck (SparkNotes Editors). In this scene, it showed how limited options were available for African American people in the work place, that even being a garbage truck driver was not allowed. The act of Troy filing a complaint showed that the time he is living now is accepting and considering their race little by little. It was also in education that African Americans experienced segregation, but later on they fought for their rights for equality. The example earlier of McLaurin showed how discrimination also applies to education. Because McLaurin saw how the university treated him differently, in 1950, he filed a complaint against the university because even though he was admitted into the university, he was still discriminated in a way that he was segregated from his white classmates (“A Century of Racial Segragation: “With an Even Hand”: Brown v. Board at Fifty”). This case of McLaurin started the Brown v. Board of Education case against discrimination in school education (“A Century of Racial Segragation: “With an Even Hand”: Brown v. Board at Fifty”). The Brown v. Board of Education 347 U.S. 483 was decided on May 17, 1954. This was an appeal against the segregation of the whites and the blacks in the public schools (“National Center for Public Policy Research”). This was an appeal for the state to consider the “separate but equal” doctrine. Though blacks may receive the same education and access to facilities of schools and universities, segregation still denied the right of a black person to be equal because they were still segregated according to their race (“National Center for Public Policy Research”). The appeal considered cases such as McLaurin’s and many more who were denied of an education at first and experienced segregation inside the classroom. Because all the cases that prove that the “segregation but equal” doctrine does not apply to public schools, the Brown v. Board of Education decided that segregation also reflects discrimination against the colored race even though they receive “equal” facilities. This paved the way for people of color to fight for their right to be respected and treated as an equal citizen with other people in the society.

The African American people have gone through years of discrimination and inequality but they manage to stand up for their own and let their voice be heard. “Fences” by August Wilson reflected what life was like for people living in a society, starting a new life from the horrible effects of discrimination. Wilson wanted to enlighten people that discrimination did not do any good for the people no matter what race they were. This play and the history of discrimination of African Americans show both the struggle and the attainment of equality with the other members of society.

Works Cited

Alchura, Jakarta. “Play reviews: Fences by August Wilson (historical criticism perspective)”.

Helium n. pag. Web. 13 May 2010. <

Bell, Derrick. “Defining Race Racism and Racial Discrimination.” University of Dayton’s

Faculty web server. N.p., 2008. Web. 13 May 2010.


SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Fences.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 6

May 2010.

“A Century of Racial Segregation: ‘With an Even Hand’: Brown v. Board at Fifty”. Library

of Congress. 2004. Web. <


“Civil Rights: Brown v. Board of Education I (1954)”. The National Center for Public Policy

Research. National Center, n.d. Web. 17 May 2010.


“Post-War Economic Boom and Racial Discrimination”. Race 2007: n. pag. Web. 13 May



“Racial Discrimination in America During the 1920s”. 13 May 2010



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