Pride and Prejudice and Fences
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, What I was walling in or walling out.” This line from Robert Frost’s Mending Wall talks about the purpose of real barriers between two neighbors, but these could also be metaphorical barriers people put between or build for others. In the play Fences by August Wilson, protagonist Troy Maxson made multiple walls. He created figurative and literary fences to keep his pride intact.
Troy put a barrier between Cory and his goal either because he did not want his son to experience discrimination on the field, or did not want Cory to be better than him. It started when Cory was recruited for his athletic talents, and would rather play football than find a job. Because of Cory’s disobedience, Troy was enraged, and would not sign the recruiter’s paper that allowed Cory to play. Later, he had a fight with Rose in which Cory interfered, finally deciding that he could not obey his father anymore. Towards the end of the play, Cory declared, “You ain’t never done nothing but hold me back! Afraid I was gonna be better than you.” (II, iv) If Cory succeeded in sports without being affected by prejudice or discrimination, the years of Troy’s grinding in the Negroes League would be meaningless, and his pride would not allow that to happen. Cory is not the only person to have an invisible wall that separated him from his goal and father. Troy’s older son, Lyons, also had a fence.
Lyons had a fence between him and Troy because of pride. Troy was a good player in the Negroes League and wished to play in the Major League, but his dream never came true. After his retirement, Troy was forced to abandon his dream and find a job as a garbage man instead. On the other hand, Lyons had the choice to follow his dreams. Lyons is very passionate about music, saying that music “Make me feel like I belong in the world.” (I, i) Every time Lyons crossed Troy’s fence into his yard, Troy would feel upset. The barrier that kept Lyons out at bay is not so much the financial crisis or the fifteen years time gap; it is because of Troy’s pride. As is the case with Cory, he felt that if his dream could not come true, his sons could not get better than him and achieve their goals.
Aside from his two children, Troy’s real fence around his backyard is, to some degree, a protection of his pride too. Early on in the play, Troy said that “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner.” (I, i) He didn’t think Death was significant. After Alberta’s death, however, Troy felt that Death got the better of him. In his rage, he said “I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side […] You stay on the other side of that fence until you ready for me. Then you come up and knock on the front door. Anytime you want. I’ll be ready for you.” (II, ii) The fence serves as a protection to reassure Troy that Death would not sneak up and outsmart him, hurting his pride a second time.
Troy Maxson’s fence is an emotional shield that caused his family to become divided. But without this, his pride would not survive through the changes in his life. Sometimes, a fence is not as much about what it’s “walling” in or out, but its raison d’etre, the reason it was there in the first place.