Act One: Scene Two
Rose hangs laundry in the yard on Saturday morning. She sings a song asking Jesus to protect her like a fence. Troy and Rose talk about the numbers, or lottery game, that Rose and Lyons play. Troy tells Rose that everyone at work thinks he is going to get fired, but he does not think it will happen. Gabriel, Troy's brother shows up at the house with a basket. He sings a song about selling plums but he does not have any plums in his basket to sell. Gabe explains to Troy that he moved over to Miss Pearl's because he didn't want to be in the way. Troy tells Gabe he is not mad at him for leaving their home. Gabe is brain-damaged from a war injury and sometimes thinks he is the angel Gabriel. Gabe often refers to St. Peter as if he knows him personally. Gabe tells Troy that he has seen St. Peter's book for Judgment Day and Troy's name appeared inside. Gabe saw Rose's name too, but not the way Troy's name appeared. Gabe leaves Troy after he thinks he sees hellhounds around Troy's feet. As Gabe leaves, he sings a song warning Troy to get ready for Judgment Day.
Rose and Troy argue over what to do to help Gabe now that he has moved to Miss Pearl's. Troy displays some guilt for managing the money Gabriel receives from the government. Rose believes Troy did the right thing in taking over Gabriel's money. Rose reminds Troy about the fence she's asked him to finish building. Troy tells Rose that he is going to Taylor's to listen to a baseball game and he'll work on the fence when he gets back.
Unlike the exaggerated stories and hopes for institutionalized change at his workplace that defined Troy in Act One, scene one, the next side of Troy that Wilson introduces us to is critical of dreams and hopes. Troy criticizes Rose's enjoyment of playing numbers, a game like the lottery that Lyons also enjoys. Troy displays his sense of responsibility in his reaction to Rose's hobby, but simultaneously provides evidence of his selfish treatment of Rose. Rose had humored Troy when Troy went on for several minutes about his battle with the Devil in Act One, scene one, but Troy cannot give Rose an inch when she talks about numbers, an activity that she enjoys as much as Troy enjoys telling his stories. This argument between them about the numbers is an example of how Troy is insensitive to Rose's needs. She will later accuse Troy of "taking and not giving," which we witness here first hand. Troy is so concerned with his own survival in his stagnant, disappointing life that he fails to perceive the ways in which his loved ones have learned to cope. Playing numbers is an escape, a simple luxury and pleasure of Rose and Lyons that serves the same purpose to them as Troy's escape in his affair with Alberta.
It is therefore ironic that Troy complains about the cost of Rose playing numbers and the loss and risk involved when his gamble with Alberta eventually proves much more expensive. Lyons and Rose playing numbers represent their individual gamble in life to put their faith in unstable hopes. Rose invests her life in Troy who has lost a significant amount of potential than when they first met. Lyons gambles with a career in music, a difficult and extremely unconventional path for the time period. Rose's positive attitude towards playing the numbers connotes that she does not have regrets about her losing gamble with Troy, but keeps her hope alive in a better, more fulfilling and richer future. On the other hand, Troy prefers to see himself as practical and miserly. He is in denial about his extramarital affair and does not see the potential cost to his stability and family he is risking, to the point where he thinks a small wager placed by Rose or Lyons is foolish.
Gabriel contributes to the world of Fences by representing absurdity, and specifically absurdity in an African American life in America. A common theme in African American literature has been the concept that to be African American in the United States is to live in a state of absurdity because the government that supposedly represents you (a citizen) has a history of denying you the rights it promises to insure. Gabriel exemplifies this duality. He fought in a war and lost a part of his brain while his brother was denied access to play with players of his level in the Major Leagues because of the color of his skin.
Gabe's character is a descendant of the wise fools in Shakespeare whose language sounds nonsensical at times, and at other times provide insight and wisdom. Gabe speaks in child-like phrases and song lyrics. He lives in a world that is half imaginary and half based on the reality before his eyes. He physicalizes a warning and a consciousness for Troy, which Troy does not heed. Gabe's recent move out of the Maxson house to an apartment in Miss Pearl's house affronts Troy's manhood because Gabe who cannot hold down a job or live in reality has managed to provide a home of his own for himself, a feat that Troy has failed to accomplish. Gabe's story about seeing Troy's name and Rose's name in different places in St. Peter's book signifies that Troy is a sinner and Rose is going to heaven. Gabe's song, "Better Get Ready For the Judgment," and his hallucination that hellhounds are in Troy's yard warn Troy to change his behavior unsuccessfully because Troy does not hear the message. Wilson's voice as a playwright however can be heard through Gabe's assessment of Troy's deeds.
Moreover, Gabe reminds Troy of Troy's own sacrifices and inability to control his fate in certain aspects of his life. Troy is ashamed of his use of Gabe's money to buy their house, but without it, they would still live in poverty. Troy's manhood is bruised because he knows it cost the Maxson family part of Gabriel's brain to have what little assets they own. This sacrifice contributes to Troy's often-warped sense of duty. Troy feels that if he had been born white with the same talent he had in his prime, or if the Major Leagues had integrated, his family would live carefree. And even with his work ethic and years of commitment to the sanitation department, he has not been able to get a promotion because the union prohibits blacks from driving the trash trucks.
Troy's inability to control his fate undoubtedly influences his adamant response to Cory's dream to play college football. Troy's experience has been that even when you try your best and sacrifice what you have to give, the rules do not always apply in your favor as a black American. Similarly, Troy has taken from Gabe what is rightfully his money for his own use.
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