Fences

by: August Wilson

Lyons Maxson

LYONS: Aw, Pop, you know I can’t find no decent job. Where am I gonna get a job at? You know I can’t get no job. . . . Naw, Pop . . . thanks. That ain’t for me. I don’t wanna be carrying nobody’s rubbish. I don’t wanna be punching nobody’s time clock.

Troy’s older son, Lyons, has come by to borrow ten dollars. An aspiring musician, Lyons finds himself perennially underemployed. Music does not pay well, and as he indicates in this conversation with his father, he has no desire for any job where he’s under someone else’s control. Since Troy was not involved in Lyons’s upbringing, Troy does not exert the control over his first son’s choices that he tries to exert over Cory, his second son.

LYONS: I know I got to eat. But I got to live too. I need something that gonna help me get out of bed in the morning. Make me feel like I belong in the world. I don’t bother nobody. I just stay with my music cause that’s the only way I can find to live in the world. Otherwise there ain’t no telling what I might do.

Lyons explains that music is his calling. If forced to give playing up for a normal job, he would be miserable. While Lyons needs to be an artist to be happy, Troy feels proud to live the “straight” life. Lyons’s devotion to his craft may mean that he is very different from Troy. At the same time, Lyons’s lifestyle may reveal something about Troy: Perhaps Troy represses his own personal desires because supporting his family feels more important than his own happiness.

LYONS: See, Pop . . . if you give somebody else a chance to talk sometime, you’d see that I was fixing to pay you back your ten dollars like I told you. Here . . . I told you I’d pay you back when Bonnie got paid. . . . Here’s your ten dollars, Pop. I told you I don’t want you to give me nothing. I just wanted to borrow ten dollars. . . . Here you go, Rose, if you don’t take it I’m gonna have to hear about it for the next six months.

Troy resents Lyons’s requests for money, since they result from Lyons’s refusal to get a “real” job. But perhaps because Troy missed Lyons’s childhood, Troy begrudgingly feels he must support Lyons now. Knowing that Troy views mooching as unmanly, Lyons feels determined to pay Troy back. Lyons gets the money from his girlfriend, who has a regular job. He feels more comfortable being supported by her than being looked down on by Troy.

LYONS: Stick with Uncle Sam and retire early. Ain’t nothing out here. I guess Rose told you what happened with me. They got me down the workhouse. I thought I was being slick cashing other people’s checks. . . . They give me three years. . . . It ain’t so bad. You learn to deal with it like anything else. You got to take the crookeds with the straights. That’s what Papa used to say.

After being away in the marines for several years, Cory reunites with his family for his father’s funeral. Here Lyons catches Cory up on his own life: Lyons is currently in prison for passing bad checks. Lyons fully admits he made a mistake and accepts his punishment, which probably makes serving the time easier to handle. By quoting his father, he shows that he learned from and respected Troy even though Troy missed Lyons’s childhood.

LYONS: Cory . . . you know I’m gonna do that. There’s some fellow down there we got us a band . . . we gonna try and stay together when we get out . . . but yeah, I’m still playing. It still helps me to get out of bed in the morning. As long as it do that I’m gonna be right there playing and trying to make some sense out of it.

After Cory asks Lyons if he’s still playing music, Lyons reveals that he could never give music up. He explains that playing is still his calling and his passion, and luckily he has found other musicians in prison to play with. For Lyons, making music is food for his soul, his reason for living. He will continue to follow his passion as long as it provides him with purpose. He certainly doesn’t make music for the financial element. Lyons understands that there are elements of himself that he can’t ignore.