Fences

by: August Wilson

Themes

Main ideas Themes

The Choice Between Pragmatism and Illusions as Survival Mechanisms

Troy and Rose choose divergent coping methods to survive their stagnant lives. Their choices directly correspond to the opposite perspectives from which they perceive their mutual world. In Act Two, scene one, Troy and Rose say that they both feel as if they have been stuck in the same place since their relationship began eighteen years ago. However, Rose and Troy handle their frustration and disappointment with their intertwined lives differently. This difference in their viewpoints is evident early on in the play. In Act One, scene one, Troy proves through his story about his battle with Death that he is a dreamer and a believer in self-created illusions. To Troy, his struggle with Death was an actual wrestling match with a physical being. Rose, on the other hand, swiftly attempts to bring Troy back to reality, explaining that Troy's story is based on an episode of pneumonia he had in July, 1941. Troy ignores Rose's pragmatic, realistic perception of his fight with death. Troy brags about his wrestling match with Death. Rose unsuccessfully refutes his story by mentioning that every time he tells the story he changes the details. Troy is unmoved by Rose's evidence against his illusion. Rose, as pacifier of the Maxson family, relents, making a final comment, "Troy, don't nobody wanna be hearing all that stuff." Later, when Troy weaves a story about encountering the devil, Rose buttons his long account with two simple words, "Troy lying."

The one impractical activity Rose takes part in is playing numbers. She has dreams and hopes for the future, like Lyons who also plays the numbers and wants to be successful in a difficult profession, jazz music. In Act One, scene two, "Troy says to Rose, "You ain't doing nothing but throwing your money away." And when Cory proposes that they buy a television in Act one, scene three, Troy makes an excuse that they need to spend the money on a new roof. When it comes to other characters' impractical decisions, Troy suddenly becomes a realist, selfishly reserving the right to dream for him only. This response comes across hypocritically from a man who later, in the same scene, will refuse to admit Hank Aaron gets enough playing time or when Cory proves a point about Sandy Koufax, Troy's futile response is, "I ain't thinking of no Sandy Koufax," as if not thinking about him will make Koufax nonexistent.

Later, in Act Two, scene one, Troy admits his affair with Alberta to Rose, excusing his behavior by expressing to Rose that spending time with Alberta allowed him to provide an illusion of accomplishment and escape from responsibility. Troy says, "Then when I saw that gal…I got to thinking that if I tried…I just might be able to steal second." Troy perceives his relationship with Alberta as a laudable move in a baseball game, as a personal accomplishment. Rose sees Troy's lies and deception about the affair as simple and straightforward self-absorbed betrayal. She says, "We're not talking about baseball! We're talking about you going off to lay in bed with another woman…[w]e ain't talking about no baseball." In the final scene, Rose copes with the death of Troy with her typically pragmatic view. "…I do know he meant to do more good than harm." Troy dies, swinging a baseball bat, still attached to unfulfilled dreams of his past while Rose serves as peacemaker and practitioner of love with her family while they grapple with Troy's confrontational legacy.