Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


Troy brings his illegitimate baby, Raynell home for the first time at the beginning of the Act Two, Scene Three of Fences. Troy sits with his motherless baby on a porch where he once reigned, but now is an unwanted presence. Then, Troy sings the song, "Please Mr. Engineer, let a man ride the line," which echoes the pleas of a man begging a train engineer to let him ride, in hiding, for free. Especially during the Harlem Renaissance (the flourishing of African American artists, writers, poets, etc. in the first half of the Twentieth Century) and during slavery times, respectively, trains were common literary devices in African American literature and music. A character that rides a train or talks of trains, or even goes to a train station came to represent change. Trains represent the coming or arrival of a major change in a character's life.

In Fences, Troy identifies with the blues song about riding the train. By singing this particular song, Troy's acknowledges that his actions caused the upheaval in the lives of his loved ones. Troy sings, "Please Mr. Engineer let a man ride the line," but in other words he is crying out to his wife, Rose to let him back into her home. Like the voice in the song, Troy is homeless and has nothing to offer the one he needs something from in order to keep going. Especially with a baby in hand, Troy has no future without his wife. In order to come back into her life, Troy knows he is asking Rose to give him a free ride of forgiveness. If she does take him back, Troy knows life with her will never return to the life they once had together because he lost her trust and respect when he committed adultery. The train song also connotes the time Troy and many other men of his generation spent wandering North during the Great Migration. He sings, "I ain't got no ticket, please let me ride the blinds," which represents the poverty the released slaves and the failed sharecroppers experienced in Troy's father's generation. Troy sings the song to his newborn daughter, passing on a song that tells an important story of her past and links that past to the present. Troy's song exemplifies the tradition in African American history to make something from nothing-like the song. Troy hopes his love for his daughter and her innocence will change Rose's heart and allow Troy another chance at fatherhood and marriage.


August Wilson did not name his play, Fences, simply because the dramatic action depends strongly on the building of a fence in the Maxson's backyard. Rather, the characters lives change around the fence-building project which serves as both a literal and a figurative device, representing the relationships that bond and break in the arena of the backyard. The fact that Rose wants the fence built adds meaning to her character because she sees the fence as something positive and necessary. Bono observes that Rose wants the fence built to hold in her loved ones. To Rose, a fence is a symbol of her love and her desire for a fence indicates that Rose represents love and nurturing. Troy and Cory on the other hand think the fence is a drag and reluctantly work on finishing Rose's project. Bono also observes that to some people, fences keep people out and push people away. Bono indicates that Troy pushes Rose away from him by cheating on her. Troy's lack of commitment to finishing the fence parallels his lack of commitment in his marriage. The fence appears finished only in the final scene of the play, when Troy dies and the family reunites. The wholeness of the fence comes to mean the strength of the Maxson family and ironically the strength of the man who tore them apart, who also brings them together one more time, in death.

The Devil

Troy casts the Devil as the main character of his exaggerated stories that entertain, bewilder and frustrate his family and friends. Eventually, Troy's association of the Devil as a harbinger of death comes to represent his struggle to survive the trials of his life. Many scenes in the play end with Troy speaking a soliloquy to Death and the Devil. In Act One, Scene One, Troy spins a long yarn, or tale about his fight for several days with the Devil. The story of the Devil endears Troy to audiences early on by revealing his capability to imagine and believe in the absurd. In another story, Troy turns a white salesman into a Devil. Troy calls a man the Devil who tried to sell Troy furniture in exchange for monthly payments by mail. Again, providing the pragmatic version of the story, Rose explains why Troy invents stories about the Devil. "Anything you don't understand, you call the Devil." Troy observes door-to-door salesmen and the process of layaway for the first time and in his ignorance, turns a modern occurrence into a mythical story.

Troy also describes the Devil's appearance as a man in a white hood. Wilson conjures the image of KKK members in KKK regalia with this description. Troy imagines the Devil, not just as an airy spirit from hell but also as a living human being. To Troy, the Devil sometimes symbolizes the aggression and cowardice of bigotry. Troy's stories about the Devil show that Troy sees himself as a man winning a fight against injustice and hatred. Troy's courage in overcoming racism is also suggested by Troy's complaint against the Sanitation Department that eventually hires Troy as the first Black man to drive a trash truck. However, as the play progresses and Troy loses the love of his family and inadvertently betrays his brother, Gabriel, the less we believe in Troy's ability to win in his struggle to overcome the bad luck of his fate and the demons he carries within that become even greater forces than the racism that curtailed his dreams.