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February 22, 2012

Fencing the Drama of August Wilson

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Posted by lhobbs at February 22, 2012 05:18 PM

Readers' Comments:


Students of 2008,

If you are submitting to this blog post for your final exam, remember to add a few comments (after a line separator) at the END of your entry after the works cited (should be the FINAL, not first, revision of your term paper) explaining why this post was one of the most appropriate to your paper's topic/thesis. Don't forget that you need to do this for two blog entries and you need to submit a paragraph informing me of which two blog entries you submitted to and an explanation why to turnitin.com. All of these steps need to be completed to get credit for the final exam.

Good luck,

Dr. Hobbs

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." ~ William Butler Yeats


*FROM April 17th*

"The Great Wall of the Southern U. S. Border"
Image Source: ">http://www.courier-journal.com/blogs/bruggers/uploaded_images/fence-792491.jpg

Some have thought that the great wall of China was built with the intention of keeping invaders out of the empire's borders. However, some scholars note that the wall's purpose was to keep the invaders "in" or "trapped" with their backs against the wall once those same invading armies had surmounted the obstacle and found themselves in retreat. This situation made it easier to for the defending armies to eliminate their "invaders" as they scrambled to find a fast way out. Using the idea that fences are meant to keep things in, such as an animal, a young child, or perhaps a prisoner, as much as they are meant to keep things out, let's approach the fence of Troy Maxon in August Wilson's Fences.

BTW, I just found this and thought it was interesting (and timely). This is Professor Crowley from Hudson College discussing the end of his class's discussion of August Wilson's Fences. The summaries of all of his classes are online (course is called "Approaches to Literature") and I think he's doing something really innovative. What would you think if I tried something like this for my future literature courses? Anyway, if you want to see how his class discussed Wilson, see his clip below. You can ignore the comments about Greek literature as the only Greek we read was Plato.

*NOTE*: TILT was due tonight. Next week will be the peer-review session for your final paper. You should bring a printed hardcopy of the paper—this is not optional, this is a requirement: you can’t do the activity without it. See the syllabus for paper formatting details. Visit the Seton Hill writing center if you don’t understand MLA or need help with it. Remember, this will be your only chance to get any feedback before the paper is due on the last day of class.

Your homework is to answer your question from activity one in paragraph form on the English-blog and turnitin.com. You should re-type the question and then take as many paragraphs as you need to answer the question adequately. If anyone wants to change their proposal in any way, tomorrow night (Thursday) will be the deadline for accepting new proposals. Remember, unless you’ve e-mailed me your new proposal and I’ve approved it, you should be writing on the proposal you’ve submitted to turnitin.com and the English-blog.

In our next class meeting, I will discuss the terms of the final exam in more detail. Begin reading Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Note: While I encourage you to see the film, understand that it is quite different from the book so any questions I will ask on the class quizzes or exams will come from the novel: you’ve been warned.

In case you were absent or tardy, here are the class activity questions that were covered in this meeting:

Activity 1 (*NOTE*: Several of these particular questions are liberally adapted from ones found at Sparknotes, Cliff's Notes, Barron's BookNotes, PinkMonkey Notes, and other resource material found online. This does not mean that the "answers" to the questions should also come from these places. Remember, reading published summaries is NOT a substitute for reading the text. You will see that the answers offered by these services are often faulty and not the consensus we often come up with in class. However, the questions themselves are honest, open-ended ones that deserve honest answers from you that can be explained, demonstrated, or proved from the actual text and your own understanding of it.)

1.SETTING: Where and when is the play set? According to the stage directions, does the set look realistic or fantasy-like?
2.CLASS STRUGGLE: What can you tell about the characters’ standard of living based only on the “set”? Explain.
3.SETTING: How is music used by Wilson in the play – both sound design and by the actors?
4.TIME/HISTORY (1 of 5): What is the significance of the play being set in 1957? How does Wilson create the time period of the play with his language?
5.TIME/HISTORY (2 of 5): What is the significance of the play being set in 1957? Could the play take place in a different decade? Why or why not?
6.TIME/HISTORY (3 of 5): What elements does Wilson employ to give the audience a sense that time has passed and characters have changed during the course of the play?
7.TIME/HISTORY (4 of 5): How are historical events and subjects referenced in the play without them actually taking place around the characters? For example, racial integration – in baseball and in the workplace; urban renewal/redevelopment; World War II.
8.TIME/HISTORY (5 of 5): How does Troy Maxson set up the direction of the play’s plot; i.e., what events does he reference or allude to that will create a struggle for him throughout the course of the play?
9.TRANSFORMATION (1 of 2): How do the characters change throughout the play? Who changes the most; the least? Explain.
10.TRANSFORMATION (2 of 2): Does Troy cause changes in the other characters? Do their reactions to him in turn change Troy? Explain.
11.FATE VS. FREE WILL: Are Troy’s problems self-created or out of his control? Explain.
12.ARCHETYPE: Is Troy a tragic figure, a hero, a villain or a combination of these types? Is he a sympathetic character?
13.PROTAGONIST’S CONFLICT: If Troy is the protagonist of the narrative, then who or what is the antagonist? Remember that there can be more than one and the antagonist can sometimes be a concept or something symbolic. Identity and explain.
14.SYMBOLISM/ALLEGORY: Towards the end of the play, what is the significance of Cory singing the song “Old Blue” that Troy sang earlier in the play? Explain.
15.What happens to Gabe at the end of the play? Explain.
16.RACE STRUGGLE (Part 1 of 4): What themes or issues might be raised in a play about blacks in the 1950s that Wilson does not address?
17.RACE STRUGGLE (Part 2 of 4): In many American plays, blacks play only minor roles or are only mentioned in passing by the main characters. Wilson reverses this by only referring to white characters but never having them appear on stage. *What effect does this have on the play? Explain.
18.RACE STRUGGLE (Part 3 of 4): In many American plays, blacks play only minor roles or are only mentioned in passing by the main characters. Wilson reverses this by only referring to white characters but never having them appear on stage. **How does their absence and presence inform the characters’ world? Explain.
19.RACE STRUGGLE (Part 4 of 4): In many American plays, blacks play only minor roles or are only mentioned in passing by the main characters. Wilson reverses this by only referring to white characters but never having them appear on stage. ***Would the play be more effective or less effective if the white characters mentioned in the play were more present? Explain.
20.GENDER STRUGGLE (1 of 2): What is the play’s attitude towards women? *How might a female playwright tell the story of Fences differently than August Wilson?
21.GENDER STRUGGLE (2 of 2): What is the play’s attitude towards women? **Do Rose and the women mentioned in the play typify roles of the 1950s or defy them? What attributes or actions of the female characters support your interpretation?
22.Some critics of August Wilson complain that “nothing happens” in this plays meaning the plot is too subtle to be dramatic. Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
23.What is the significance of the play’s title?
24.What is the purpose of a fence?
25.Discuss the significance of the title, “Fences,” as it relates to characters and themes of the play.
26.How do “fences” (real and metaphorical) create conflict between characters? Who builds these emotional “fences”? Are “fences” taken down?

Activity 2

1.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
2.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
3.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
4.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers”? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”?
5.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Langston Hughes’s “On the Road”? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
6.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
7.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
8.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Jerzy Kosinksi’s The Painted Bird? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
9.Discuss the symbolism of “fences” in a work other than August Wilson’s. What literal and symbolic “fences” are in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”? What do they “keep in” and what do they “keep out”? Find as many examples as you can.
10.Remember Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and its symbolic meanings (see your old handouts)? How is the allegory of the cave metaphor revealed in August Wilson’s Fences? Find as many examples as you can.
11.Remember Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”/Monomyth and its structure (see your charts)? How is the monomyth revealed in August Wilson’s Fences? Remember to identify your hero, the ordinary/special worlds, and the literal and symbolic phases of departure, initiation, and return. If you have time, also tell us about any of the “stages” you recognize (see charts) in Fences.

See you next week!

Dr. Hobbs

*NOTE: As with all reading responses submitted to the English-Blog for EL 267, you must first submit the response to the proper space on www.turnitin.com (the date for which it was assigned). To get credit, the response must be present in both places by the deadline. Submissions to only one will not receive credit nor will late submissions, so beware!


Ryenn Micaletti

American Lit 1915 - Present


The setting of this story is in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and 60s in a low income neighborhood. The setting of this story is realistic because the set on stage is a backyard. A backyard is not hard to simulate on a stage.

Posted by: Ryenn Micaletti at April 17, 2008 10:14 PM

There are very few literal fences in Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird, although one example would be the story the narrator tells about a rabbit on page 227. The wild rabbit, caught by Makar, fought viciously to gain its freedom, but eventually became tame. One day, the door to the cage was left open, and the rabbit leapt out. It stared around for a moment, savoring freedom, then suddenly seemed to shrink, and crawled back into the hutch. Freedom in this sense is a complete lack of fear and total reliance on oneself. The fence is society and reliance on others, because it keeps the rabbit (and the narrator) from being able to go where he pleases.
Other, more symbolic fences are shown in race, because the narrator is constantly being fenced out of normal relations with the other people because of his looks. Actually, appearances themselves are a fence. The painted birds that Lekh set free were destroyed by the other birds, not because they were actually different, but because they looked different from the rest. There are also fences of education, which is why the peasant people have a hard time understanding the narrator. It seems like life, in this story, is made of fences between those who will hurt you and those who can help you.



Hallie, you were to answer the FIRST question from activity one (the first half of class) for this assignment. You've done the question from the second half of class.

Try again to get credit!


Posted by: HGeary at April 18, 2008 05:13 PM

Amanda Farabaugh
Reading Response:
9.Transformation (1 of 2): How do the characters change throughout the play? Who changes the most: the least? Explain.

The characters change physically by getting older, mentally by not fearing someone/something or by growing up and making it on their own. In class I had thought Troy had changed the most, and Gabe did not; however with more thought I do agree with my classmates and believe Troy’s son Cory changed the most and Gabe hardly changing. Cory was in High School almost the whole play except towards the end. You could say he had gotten older. Also Cory changed from in the beginning he was afraid of his father and almost at the end he didn’t fear him because he was angry with him at what he did to his mother. He had also changed as in High School he wanted to play football, but in the end he didn’t and instead he became part of the Marines. Gabe hardly changed at all. In the beginning he was introduced to us as a free spirited man who believed he was the archangel and was to help open the gates up for God. This is who he was all throughout the play. The only part about Gabe that changed was not living with society. He was put into a hospital where he could be taken care of and not get into any trouble. Each character has changed a bit in there own way, Troy stays the same bitter man with baseball and dies feeling that way, Rose was happy with her life until Troy had an affair and she became upset and without a man, Lyons ended his relationship with Bonnie and was sent to jail for cashing other’s checks, while Bono ended his friendship with Troy. They have all changed from the beginning of the play to the end, only Cory had changed the most.

Posted by: Amanda F. at April 18, 2008 08:32 PM

Some of Troy’s problems are self-created, while others are out of his control. After stealing, Troy was put in prison. It was difficult for him to find a job and starting a life after being in prison for so many years and now having a criminal record. Since Troy had committed adultery, he created problems with his marriage to Rose. He lost his marriage, his mistress, his best friend’s respect, and gained a child through his relationship with Alberta. These problems are examples of how Troy forms his own problems.
Some problems, on the other hand, are out of Troy’s control. African Americans were not given much baseball playing time in Troy’s day, so he was not able to make a living out of playing baseball. African Americans had a difficult time finding jobs in this era. Troy’s only career choice consisted of picking up garbage, which paid very little.
Troy is bitter and miserable throughout the majority of the novel because of his problems. Although he creates some of his own problems, he blames the world for his below average life.

Amanda S.

Posted by: Amanda Swartz at April 19, 2008 05:48 PM

There were many issues facing blacks in the 1950’s that weren’t addressed in Fences. I thought it was surprising that Wilson didn’t mention any of the boycotts for equal rights, like the famous Rosa Parks Bus Boycott, which would have happened only two years before the book started (because the book was set in roughly 1957 – 1965). Sit-ins and freedom rides were common in the time of this book, and Troy must have known about them because he did have access to a radio. It seems really odd that Wilson wouldn’t have mentioned the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., who started his efforts for equality at the start of the book. In the face of Troy’s constant anger against whites for causing him to lose his chance at playing baseball, it seems a little off that he wouldn’t be involved with promoting black equality. On the other hand, it seems like Wilson was trying to write a realistic book about what it was like to be a black person in that period, and it is easy to see that Troy probably wouldn’t have been able to make trouble because of all his responsibilities and the pain it would have caused to his family. Ironically, the book ends a year before the black power movement, but I think Troy might have been interested in that idea.

Posted by: HGeary at April 19, 2008 07:38 PM

Set in a time of change in America, August Wilson’s Fences portrays what is probably a typical black family in a lower-middle class family. The strong father-figure, Troy, is a complex man with a chip on his shoulder. He sees the best attributes within himself being wasted due to an inequality in race relations. The fight for equality is in full force and can be noted within every facet of Troy’s life.

Sports, baseball and football specifically, are referenced by Troy as something unattainable by a black man, especially him. While sports are slowly integrating and there are black men playing professional sports, Troy is convinced that the black men on any sports team rarely have the opportunity to play, still taking a backseat to white players. Troy’s son Cory is well aware of the change that is taking place in society as he has the opportunity to play football. He realizes that although Troy is not playing ball, the ability for a black man to take a greater role in the white man’s world is certainly available.

Troy’s position as a sanitation worker is another challenge that he takes on in an attempt to advance in a white world. He is able to become the first black garbage truck driver, which furthers the idea that integration is happening in every part of 1950’s/1960’s America.

A huge step forward in the integrative culture referenced in Fences is the fact that Troy’s brother Gabriel served in WWII, this being the first war with black airmen. Although some units may have been segregated, the opportunity to fight for one’s country was now available to all men.

Urban development was making its way through black neighborhoods as many likely held the desire to have a home much like that of their white counterparts. This can be noted in Troy’s wish to have a fence.

With the nation changing so aggressively during this time period, black America, Troy included, could face more opportunity that ever. Without being directly referenced in the play, the historical context of Fences portrays black America as a separate society quickly gaining access to a culture and life previously unavailable.

Posted by: Vivian Lee C. at April 20, 2008 11:12 AM

Time/history is very important in August Wilson’s, “Fences.” Troy sets up the direction of the play’s plot by constantly referencing and alluding to his baseball career throughout the play. He is very bitter about his not being able to play baseball in the Major Leagues because of his race, even though he was talented enough to do so. He was past his prime when they finally did start accepting blacks, so he never got the chance to play. His bitterness continually affects him throughout the course of the play. Because of his past, he refuses to let his son take the opportunity to play football in college. This creates tension between the father and son that is never fully resolved. As a result, his son may carry that bitterness towards Troy for the rest of his life, eventually carrying over to the next generation resulting in a continuous cycle of regret and anger. Similarly, Troy spends the rest of the play trying to prove himself. He even tries to defy death to prove that he is strong and worthy; this all stems from his being told that he couldn’t play professional baseball.

Posted by: Chera P at April 20, 2008 03:41 PM

Blog Entry 7
19. Race Struggle (Part 4 of 4) In many American plays, blacks play only minor roles or are only mantioned in passing by the main characters. Wilson reverses this by only referring to white characters but never having them appear on stage.
Would the play be more effective or less effective if the white characters mentioned in the play were more present? Explain.
I believe that the play would have been less effective if the white characters in the play were more present. The truth of the matter is that this play is basically a cultural study of a minority in America. For example, when I visit New York City I usually stay right outside of the city in New Jersey which has a very high population of Hispanic-Americans. Even from walking around in a small strip mall in the area it was very evident that due to the high percentage of the hispanic population they had a very defined culture. This was a fascinating prospect and I believe it holds true for this story as well. Growing up in Pittsburgh you know that every area of this city has its own distinct culture, both ethnically and regionally. I can totally understand that if this family came from one of the highly populated black areas of Pittsburgh, they probably did not see or hear from many whites unless they were outside of their area or at work. They probably also lived around or near many people of their same background and found solace in that. This is the way Pittsburgh has been for centuries. For example, there is still a very high Jewish population in Squirrel Hill, a very high Polish population on Polish Hill, and a very high black population in East Liberty.
Also, it makes the play more effective because it is a unique piece of art. The play would almost be less unique if whites were in it since it is such a common occurrence in plays, musicals, and American opera.

Posted by: Candice S at April 20, 2008 07:11 PM

Chris King. Questions #21 – Gender Struggle: What is the play’s attitude towards women? Do Rose and the women mentions in the play typify roles of the 1950’s or defy them? What attributes or actions of the female characters support your interpretation?
I feel that the general attitude towards women, in the novel, is positive and fairly typical of the 1950’s. Rose shows this by doing all of the house work and baking/cooking all of the food. She does the chores and takes care of everyone’s needs, which is typical of the 1950’s. When Troy explains the affair situation, Rose holds an understandable shock and is appalled at what has happened. I think she rightfully and truly reacted as anyone would have at that time. Although, I think as in general and not including that situation,she “talked more than normal”. Not saying that women were not allowed to talk, and of course I wouldn’t know from personal experience, but I felt like she expressed more opinions than that of the women I picture from the 1950’s. Overall though, I feel the females were respected (minus a few situations), although maybe not appreciated. All of which, in my opinion, is 1950’s typical.

Posted by: Chris King at April 21, 2008 03:25 PM

Some critics of August Wilson complain that “nothing happens” in this play meaning the plot is too subtle to be dramatic. I’m in between on agreeing and disagreeing. There is nothing world changing that happens in this play, there is no real main goal set out to achieve. There is no literal adventure that the characters must endure to get from one end to the other. However, there is drama among the family, so I cannot completely agree that “nothing happens”. There are the tensions between Troy and Jim Bono as Bono wants Troy to stop having an affair. There is also drama on the two occasions that Troy and Cory get into arguments; and particularly on the second argument where they get really physical in their fighting. Another dramatic scene is when Troy tells Rose that he is expecting a baby with another woman, and the affair is no longer a secret.

Posted by: Samantha G at April 22, 2008 02:25 PM

T. Wineland
American Literature
Prof. Hobbs
April 23, 2008

There are many symbolic fences in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which the characters use to keep unwanted forces out and to keep private secrets in. Jake’s impotence acts as a fence keeping him from having a relationship with Brett. In addition, he places a fence between himself and homosexuals in the beginning of the novel maybe because of a disapproval of them.
The characters in the novel travel often and I believe their traveling allows them to break free of the fences of their everyday lives. In addition they build fences around themselves by abusing alcohol to help suppress their feelings so they won’t have to deal with them.
There also seems to be a symbolic fence between Robert Cohn and the others in the story. He is kind of an outsider and the individual they find easy to pick on. Also, Robert was not in the war and did not have the same experiences as the others and therefore a fence separates them in this respect as well.
Lastly, there is a literal fence in The Sun Also Rises, which would be the fence around the bull ring keeping the bulls from running free in the streets.



Theresa, you were to answer the FIRST question from activity one (the first half of class) for this assignment. You've done the question from the second half of class.

Try again to get credit!


Posted by: T. Wineland at April 22, 2008 03:39 PM

In our class discussion of August Wilson’s Fences we discussed a few questions about the characters and the time period that the story was held in. My question was: Is Troy Maxson was a hero, a tragic figure, villain or a combination of both? Is a sympathetic character. Why or why not?
I strongly felt that he was combination of the three characters. He had the characteristics of each so it was actually difficult to classify him as just one. Troy was a hero because he became the first black garbage man in Pittsburgh. During the late 50's and 60's African American were not able to obtain jobs like that so in the eyes of the other people in the community, Troy was a hero. Troy was a tragic hero because he suffered through a lot of hardships all of his life. At an early age, his mother left him and he was raised by his father. His father never really gave him love or approval when he needed it. Also Troy was rejected from playing professional baseball so all of these set backs can be considered tragic. There were many things that made Troy a villain. Because of all the trials he face he became very bitter. He pushed away his family and his friends. He refused to give his sons the support and approval that his father never gave him but I think he treated Corey the worst. Because Corey was being recruited to play football, it reminded Troy of his rejection and so he constantly tried to hold Corey back. He also had an affair which pushed his wife Rose away from him. As far as Troy being a sympathetic character, I don’t think he was one. Everything he did made me dislike him more and more. I actually sympathized more with his family than I did with him. I feel like he deserved everything that happened to him.

Posted by: Shayla Sorrells at April 22, 2008 08:20 PM

2. Class Struggle: What can you tell about the characters’ standard of living based only on the “set”? Explain.

Accentually the story takes place in an older style house in Pittsburgh. Troy is a very proud man who prides himself in being the breadwinner of the family. The family is not very wealthy, but they are not living in poverty. Many of the mortgage payments needed to pay for the house came from Troy’s brother, Gabriel. Gabriel received a head injury in the war, and now receives war compensation for his injury, which Troy and his wife hold for Gabriel because he is not responsible enough to take care of his own money.

Thomas A.

Posted by: Thomas A. at April 22, 2008 08:40 PM

In Fences, Cory reminded me a lot of Jacob from The Sun Also Rises. Both Characters go throughout the entire story trying to achieve something and in the end both give up or are conquered by outside events that they can not control. Cory seeks to play football and go to college and his attitude at the beginning of the play is extremely optimistic. Cory, through struggle with his father, eventually gives up on his dream because his father Troy becomes a road block. Cory eventually joins the armed forces and really has a bad attitude. However was it better for Cory to join the armed forces, probably not it probably would have served him better if he would have gone to college. Jacob, on the other hand, longs to be with Brett throughout the whole book. Brett strings him along, unlike Troy whom Cory seeks approval of but Troy destroys Cory’s want and need for his father’s approval. Jacob goes through the same sort of epiphany. Jacob longs for Brett and through all of Brett’s games and toying with Jacobs’s feelings in the end Jacob doesn’t end up with Brett and is better for it. Jacob’s road block becomes his inability to function properly as a man. Although both these characters go through different trials they still seek another person’s attention and in the end don’t receive what they thought they desired in the first place.

Posted by: erin at April 23, 2008 08:41 AM

Character Transformation

In August Wilson’s book fences, many characters undergo transformation. However, the main character, Troy, seems to remain static throughout the entire book. He is cantankerous, spiteful, and feels like he is restricted due to his ethnicity and the people around him. Although Troy does not change, he causes major change in all of the other characters in the story.
Troy’s wife, Rose, is changed by Troy in many ways. However, the most insistent change the reader sees in Rose is after Troy admits his infidelity. Rose is heartbroken that she has invested 18 years in a man who has cheated on her. Immediately after the admittance, it appears that Rose may be willing to forgive him if he stops seeing Alberta. Troy chooses not to, even thought Rose begs him to stay home with her. Once Alberta dies and Troy is responsible for taking care of the baby, Rose once again changes, by offering to raise the baby, but to have nothing to do with Troy.
Troy’s son Lyons, is also changed by his dad. In the beginning of the book, Lyons appears to not have much respect for his dad, or for the advice that Troy is trying to give him. However, once Troy tells the story of how his dad treated him, and what a hard life he lived, Lyons is more understanding and respectful towards his father.
Bono, who has been Troy’s best friend since they were in jail, does not escape change in the story. Bono has stood by Troy’s side for many years, through many trials and tribulations. However, Bono can not forgive that Troy has cheated on Rose. He makes less and less frequent visits to the house, and the relationship between Bono and Troy is clearly strained, if not non-exsistent by the end of the story.
Troy’s other son, Cory, perhaps is the character most transformed by Troy. Cory seems to be an average high school kid, who neglects his chores and just wants to play football, similar to any other teenager. He has dreams of playing professional football, and thinks that these dreams can come true when he is told that a college recruiter will be coming to watch him play. However, his father chastises this dream, and puts a stop to it when he tells Cory’s coach that he is not allowed to play football. Cory goes from a happy go lucky teenager to a bitter and angry young man who is so disillusioned from his father that he does not even want to attend his funeral at the end of the story.
Alberta, the woman that Troy has the affair with, may undergo a psychological change that the reader does not see. However, the character definitely goes through a physical change. While giving birth to Troy’s baby, Alberta dies.
The child whom Alberta died giving birth to is Raynell. Even she as an innocent baby, is changed by Troy. By his cheating on Rose with Alberta, Troy forces Raynell to be brought into a broken family, whose mother and father are not married. This could have caused other hardships for Ranyell later in life.
The only character who remains constant throughout the entire story is Troy’s mentally handicapped brother Gabe, but even in his state, he is not beyond the realms of Troy’s fury. Shortly after having to bail his brother out of jail, Troy signs the papers to have Gabe locked up in a mental institution, taking away the only freedom that Gabe had left.
Wilson takes the usual notion that the antagonist of the story is the one who changes, and instead causes the antagonist to make the changes. Not within himself, but within everyone else.

Posted by: Jodi S. at April 23, 2008 11:22 AM

14. Symbolism/Allegory: Towards the end of the play, what is the significance of Cory singing the song "Old Blue" that Troy sang earlier in the play? Explain.

As discussed in class, some of us mentioned that the significance was an act of closer for Cory; as Cory and Troy did not get along well. I personally took another route in the symbolic nature of the song being sung by Troy then later Cory. I had tied in that Troy had personal connection with Blue, for every time that Blue was called, Blue would run to your side, lie down, and look at you. The lyrics to the song, describe this very act. Troy would sing this song describing Blue's actions. To me, the significance of Cory singing it i guess, in a way would be a sense of closer, but to me it sounded more so as a call of an angel. Now that Troy has died, when the song is sung, because Troy loved that song and that dog so much, Troy will come to your side and watch over you; this in a sense, has similar action to what we perceive an angel to do. And now that Cory has reconciled with Troy, due to his death, Cory, although did not agree with Troy, can call upon him for guidance, just as we would call upon an angel for guidance and protection.

Posted by: RD at April 23, 2008 02:35 PM

In “Fences,” Gabe is the brother of Troy. He fought in World War II and suffered a head injury. After that injury, he was not the same. He thought that he was the Angel, Gabriel. He wore a horn around his neck and said that he was going to blow it and open the gates to Heaven. Gabe is much like the character of the Fool in King Lear or other Shakespearean plays. Gabe seems to know more about the people around him than he even knows about himself. In Act One, Scene 2, Gabe seems to observe Troy’s fate with clarity. He tries to warn Troy of his tragic fate by using riddles and his playful language.
At the end of the book, Gabriel is put into a mental institution by his brother, Troy. It was thought that Troy was paid to put Gabe in the mental hospital. After Troy’s death at the end of the play, the family was not sure if Gabe would be able to attend the service or not because he was in the hospital. Gabriel shows up at the service with his trumpet in his hand. Gabriel said that it was time to tell St. Peter to open the gates for Troy. He tries to blow the trumpet, but no sound comes out. Gabe becomes very frustrated by this and begins to do a dance that resembled an African dance. While he was dancing, he cried out very loudly. After this happens, the gate opens and Gabe says “That’s the way that goes.” This is the way the play ends.

Posted by: Michelle E. at April 23, 2008 03:12 PM

My question was:
Protagonist Conflict: If Troy is the protagonist of the narrative, then who or what is the antagonist? Remember that there can be more than one and the antagonist can sometimes be a concept or something symbolic.
I think that Death, Baseball, and Race Relations are all antagonists. I think Death because of his constant struggle and battle with death, Baseball because it is constantly referred to foiling his life and, Race Relations because it constantly controls Troy’s thoughts on society. These things are antagonist for troy because they are the things that oppose troy’s life and are seen as his set backs.

Posted by: Shantavia Burchette at April 23, 2008 03:19 PM

Question #5: What is the significance of the play being set in 1957? Could the play take place in a different decade? Why or why not?

The significance of the play being set in 1957 is that it deals with the class and race issues of this time period. At this time African Americans were only recently allowed to play in mixed sports leagues; before this, there were separate leagues for blacks and whites. This has a big affect on Troy because he doesn’t realize the opportunities that Corey has playing football. Troy thinks that people will still discriminate against his son and only give him a few minutes of playing time, if any at all. Also, at this time only white men were allowed to drive the garbage trucks and black men had to pick up the trash and throw it into the truck. Troy doesn’t want to settle for that. He wants the opportunity to drive the truck. He peruses this issue and becomes the first black garbage truck driver in Pittsburgh.
I think that this play could take place in a different decade but wouldn’t have as much of an effect because these issues were very relevant at this time. If the play was set after the 50s, the stakes would be lessened because as time passed African Americans gained more opportunities and equality. If it was set before the 50s, a lot of the story would be different because Troy and Corey wouldn’t have the opportunities they had in the 50s.

Posted by: Melissa L. at April 23, 2008 04:18 PM

Natasha Hill

Question: What is the significance of the play being set in 1957. How does Wilson create the time period of the play with his language?

The significance of the play being set in 1957 is to depict the troubles of the era for an African-American during this time. Additionally, setting a play, with characters a reader gets to know and interact with make the struggles seem more real and personal, not just historical fact. With this time setting the reader gains a better understanding of Troy’s employment issues and the language used in conversation. Jazz music and baseball were at the forefront now which helps the viewer/reader relate to the passions of Lyons and Troy. It also helps to justify Troy’s reaction towards his son Cory’s dream of major league football. A setting of the year 1957 explains Troy’s lack of education (when he was young, I do not believe it would have been the law for him to attend school). It also makes the main setting of the play, the front porch of a home, completely relatable. During these years the front porch was a common place to gather with friends, sit alone or spend quality time with one’s family.
August Wilson created the time period with his use of language as well. The characters use words such as “Naw”, “colored”, “fixin” (in reference to getting ready, not actually repairing), “Pop” (as in Dad), and many other clips and phrases. All these words and the way Wilson connects them is hard to describe but when “Fences” is read or heard, the language takes you into that particular time period.

Posted by: Natasha Hill at April 23, 2008 04:27 PM

Wilson uses music as a motif throughout the entire play Fences. The main character, Troy, loves to sing blues music. He sings two songs throughout the play, “Please Mr. Engineer let a man ride the line” and “Hear it Ring Hear it Ring”. Troy’s wife Rose also sings a song in the play and it is more of a gospel song, “Jesus be a fence all around me everyday”. Wilson uses blues music in the play to represent blues in African American civilization. The passing on of a tradition is also shown in the play when Cory and Raynell sing their father’s blues songs together on the day of his funeral. The name of the dog in the “Hear it Ring” song was Blue, which could represent blues music.

Posted by: C. Bell at April 23, 2008 04:38 PM

Heather Stull
Dr. Hobbs
Reader Response 4-23-08

In August Wilson’s Fences, the treatment of women fits the narrow-minded stereotypes of the housewife of the fifties. Rose is always cooking or doing laundry. She is very motherly towards everyone, always offering up plates of food. She tries to act as peacekeeper, often stepping in between Troy and Leroy. Bono’s wife, Lucille is very concerned with getting a new refrigerator. As the novel, progresses, a time shift into the sixties takes place and changes can be seen in Rose’s character. She takes a stand against Troy, taking responsibility for caring for his illegitimate daughter, but informing him that he is now a “womanless man”. If the play had been written by a woman, Rose may have exhibited a stronger psychological reaction to Troy’s infidelity. Also, women would have been presented with more redeeming qualities/lifestyles than being mere housewives concerned with cooking, laundry and new refrigerators.

Posted by: Heather S. at April 23, 2008 04:50 PM

Indentifying Fence

The symbolic meanings about Plato’s Allegory the Cave” in the Fences.

When Uncle Gbrie trying to ask the St. Peter to open the gates form the haven, that’s his cave. The symbolic of that cave means he needs come back and be a traditional black person as the require from the Peter that ask him to do the Africa traditional dance.
Also when he trying to change his main sport, that’s kind of cave because when the future he think against the future that his family think, the cave of him is like he want to do the sports he like and the same time, he also doesn’t want to disappointed his family.

Posted by: Yichuan sun at April 23, 2008 05:00 PM


*NOTE* The deadline for this assignment has now passed. Any comments listed below are *ONLY* for the reposting of comments that I asked to be revised. Anything posted below that missed the deadline will not get credit for the assignment.

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at April 24, 2008 10:43 AM


*NOTE* The deadline for this particular assignment has now passed. Any comments listed below are *ONLY* for the reposting of comments that I specifically asked to be revised or are ones from non-student posters. Any 'student' posts below that missed the assignment deadline will not get credit for the assignment. ~ Dr. Hobbs

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at May 6, 2008 11:01 AM

Students of 2008,

If you are submitting to this blog post for your final exam, remember to add a few comments (after a line separator) at the END of your entry after the works cited (should be the FINAL, not first, revision of your term paper) explaining why this post was one of the most appropriate to your paper's topic/thesis. Don't forget that you need to do this for two blog entries and you need to submit a paragraph informing me of which two blog entries you submitted to and an explanation why to turnitin.com. All of these steps need to be completed to get credit for the final exam.

Good luck,

Dr. Hobbs

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." ~ William Butler Yeats


Erin Ware

Dr. Lee Hobbs

SEL 267 American Literature 1915 – Present

30 April, 2008

Comparing the Main Female Characters in The Sun Also Rises and Fences and Their Roles as Feminists

Feminism is a concept that perplexes and in some cases intimidates a lot of people, when sadly enough they do not understand the true definition. Feminism isn’t a theory or concept of hatred towards men and men can be feminists and not lose their masculinity. The definition of feminism is, “A belief in social, political, and economical equality,”(American Heritage Dictionary, par 1). So unless you believe that people of different race, different gender, different religious background, and different sexualities are not equal you are indeed a feminist by definition. In Earnest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and August Wilson’s Fences there is only one main female character, Brett and Rose, surrounded by male characters, which leads to these women maintaining their character and position. Both Brett and Rose, though total opposite in character, play very strong roles and exhibit feminist traits through their beliefs, how they live their lives, the period of time they lived in, and the choices they make.
Both women seem to rise above their time and shine as strong independent women and perhaps the choices they make lead them to take on independency. Brett lives in Paris, France after WWI and leads a life that is quite different than most women during that time period. Brett comes and goes as she pleases, drinks heavily, and courts men. Brett jumps from man to man throughout the book; she starts off being engaged to Michael, and then seeks Jacob and while she is seeking Jacob she is running around with Count Mippipoplous, and then has an affair with Robert Cohn which leads up to her rendezvous with Pedro Romero and finally ends up engaged to Michael, again. Brett, within the short amount of time this book takes place, goes through five men. Brett lives life drinking and traveling and also has a career as a nurse for the army.
When the reader is first introduced to Brett, she enters the bar were Jacob is with a crowd of men, homosexual men. Also for Brett’s time she was liberated in dress; “pulled her man’s felt hat down” (Hemingway 35) and “her hair was brushed back like a boy’s” (Hemingway 30). Brett is described several times dressing with men’s clothing and pulling her hair back like a man. The connection between dressing slightly like a man and still “looking lovely” (Hemingway 28) proves Brett’s rebellion of long flowing hair and long ladylike dresses which any artwork done of women in the 1920’s showed flowing long hair and ladylike dresses. Therefore from history and artwork we can deduct that Brett’s dress and attitude towards life was not suppressed or constrained at all…Brett held the upper hand in her life. Brett also states “we have our careers” (Hemingway 68). Brett is a career woman and not a homemaker which is very apparent throughout the entire book. Brett almost takes on the role of a man by courting different men and teasing the men she is around. All of the men in the book at some point are infatuated with Brett. Brett has become an equal in a world when women were not considered equals. Brett pokes fun at the men surrounding her, “you’ve a hell of a biblical name Jake” (Hemingway 30). Brett is on the same level as these men that she can poke fun and tease the way she does and she is always included in the outings.
Brett is a woman that has a presence of independence. Towards the end of the novel when she meets and falls for Pedro Romero we truly see Brett’s independence. Because she is not a lady or does not follow feminine ways she has to let Pedro go for she fears she will ruin his career. Brett is aware of the difference in herself and other women during her time and Brett knows where her place is. Brett expresses to Jake “He was born in 1905. I was in school in Paris, then. Think of that.” (Hemingway 248). Brett goes on to tell Jake that “he’d only been with two women before. He never cared about anything but bull-fighting” (Hemingway 248). Brett’s place is with the men who have embraced her liberation and treat her as an equal. Also Brett leaving Pedro is self awareness, “You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch,” of her inability to be suppressed by someone (Hemingway 249).
Brett is faced with challenges that she overcomes and throughout the course of the novel becomes more aware of herself and what her needs are. Brett’s choices made proves her independency and stance on equality and she was never forced into her decisions she made them willingly on her own. Brett surrounds herself with men and fits in as an equal and for the 1920’s was an accomplishment. Brett lives her life the way she chooses and when something is standing in her way she illuminates them from her life like Robert Cohn. Robert was causing her grief and Brett made Robert very aware that he was not welcome. Although the reader might not like Brett or agree with her decisions you can not deny that she stands for independence and equality.
In comparison to Brett, Rose does take on the mother, housewife role that was very typical for women during the 1950-60’s. However, Rose is a special breed of woman who indicated throughout the entire play her strength and refusal to be less than any man. In an age where June Clever was the role model for women to follow, Rose marched to the beat of her own drum. The interesting factor about Rose opposed to Brett is that she is fighting two potential judgments, she is a woman and she is black. During the 1950-60’s blacks were not suppressed like they were in the previous decades, but there was still segregation and Rose, unlike her husband, didn’t let it effect her. Rose tried to make Troy see that racism wasn’t a factor for his inability to play baseball. “How you gonna play ball when you were over fourty?” she asks him (Wilson 43). She continues to tell Troy that “Times have changes from when you was young. Troy, people change. The world’s changing around you and you can’t even see it” (Wilson 40).
This battle that Rose takes on with Troy preludes the argument of their son Cory playing football which is yet another example of Rose’s strength as a woman and the battles she chooses to have with Troy. The epitome of the entire story is that Rose is outsmarting her husband and is aware of what is going on. Rose isn’t the mousy woman that never speaks against her husband, Rose tells Troy what she thinks and also when she believes Troy is out of line. Rose fights for Cory’s right to play football, “why don’t you let that boy go ahead and play football Troy? Ain’t no harm in that” (Wilson 39). Rose defends herself and Cory and the reason this argument comes to a halt is the underlying events that are surfacing.
Rose is aware of Troy’s unfaithfulness, in act one Troy leaves to go “listen to the ball game” (Wilson 28) and when he returns home he tries to kiss Rose and Rose stops him. “I thought you went down Taylors’ to listen to the game. Go on, Troy! You supposed to be putting up this fence” (Wilson 30). Troy attempts to kiss Rose again and Rose responds, “Go on, Troy. I ain’t studying you” (Wilson 30). Rose’s insistence on Troy not kissing her and not submitting herself to being a sloppy second proves her strength as a woman, she demands respect. Another instance when Rose demands respect from Troy is when he was out on the porch yelling for Rose and she replies, “Hush all that hollering, man! I know you out here.” “Man, hush your mouth I ain’t no dog…talk about come when you call me” (Wilson 43). Troy doesn’t react which his guilt at this point could be getting the best of him. However, the way Wilson sets Rose’s character up from the beginning the audience gets a sense of command and strength from Rose right up to the end of the play when she takes Raynell to raise as her own. After everything Rose goes through, watching her son be put down by Troy, finding out her husband has been having and affair, and then discovering Troy’s lover was pregnant and raising the child after the mother dies. Rose treated everyone equally and tried to encourage Troy to do the same. Rose also encouraged Troy to look at things differently. Rose, especially for her time, would be considered a feminist.
Feminists don’t have to take to picket lines to claim their beliefs. Women and men just have to live the lifestyle; equality and holding themselves up to maintain equality which, Brett and Rose fulfill. For the times these women had so much strength they eventually disrupted the men’s lives that surrounded them. Rose’s husband cheated on her and his claim was that Rose wouldn’t let him be himself. Rose just simply demanded respect and he hold up his responsibilities. Whereas Brett crumbles the men she is around, Robert Cohn and Michael end up fighting over her and Brett is disgusted by both of them. Also in the beginning on the book Brett has that affect on Jacob but Jacob sees her for what she is and in Fences Bono sees Rose for whom she is.
Through the experiences these woman, we as readers share their struggle to be independent woman. Both Brett and Rose live in a time where women were not on the same pedestal as men and women either took their duties or stood up for themselves and lived their lives, which Brett and Rose did. Hemingway and Wilson, both male writers, had very strong women characters in both of their stories. Both Brett and Rose demonstrate a feminist role in two completely different settings and lifestyles. Therefore, feminists can be anywhere it is how they present themselves.

Hemingway, Earnest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926.
Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Penguin Group, 1985.
American Heritage Dictionary. “Feminism.” 2003. Houghton Mifflin Company. 29 April, 2008

---- My Final Research paper is posted under Wilson because I wrote about Rose and her feministic traits in Fences.

Posted by: Erin W. at February 24, 2012 12:49 PM

Shayla Sorrells
American Literature 1915- Present
Dr. Hobbs
29, April 2008

Relative Chaos: The Representation of Dysfunctional Families in Literature
In society today, many people are considered to come from broken or dysfunctional homes. A dysfunctional family is defined as a family, in which conflict, misbehavior and even abuse on the part of individual members of the family occur continually, leading other members to accommodate such actions. (www. k-state.edu/counseling/topics/relationships/dysfunc.htm). Dysfunctional families are not only seen in everyday life, but are also found on TV. shows and movies as well. What many people do not realize is, dysfunctional families are also represented in popular literature. Two prime examples of this would be in August Wilson’s play Fences and Alice Walkers short story Everyday Use. In both of these works of literature, each family displays certain characteristics that eventually allow the reader to recognize that the family is dysfunctional. In both Fences and Everyday Use the portrayal of dysfunctional families is the most realistic representation of reality.
In August Wilson’s Fences, the Maxson family is a true illustration of a broken family. Characteristics such as torn father and son relationships, extramarital affairs, jealousy and bitterness are what cause so much turmoil between the characters. Troy Maxson, the main character is the root for all the drama. As a child Troy was abandoned by his mother, and raised by his father. His father never really gave him the love and approval that he needed when he was young. In fact they constantly fought with each other. There is one example in the text where Troy is having a conversation with Bono and Lyons and he tells them about an incident that made him see his father in a new light. “Now it was my turn to run him off. I picked up them same reins that he had used on me. I picked up them reins and commenced to whupping on him. The gal jumped up and run off.... and when my daddy turned to face me, I could see why the devil had never come to get him... cause he was the devil himself. I don’t know what happened. When I woke up, I was laying right there by the creek and Blue... this old dog we had... was licking my face. I couldn’t see nothing.” (Wilson p.52). After Troy had snuck off with a girl, his father caught him and whipped him so badly his eyes were swollen shut. After this he decided to leave his fathers house and live on his own.
A few years later Troy became a father himself but he did not choose to become a different man than his father was. He was incarcerated for most of his oldest son Lyons childhood, causing him to be raised by his mother. Although he was there for his son Corey’s upbringing, he treated both of his sons the same. He never gave them any approval for career choices. He also never expressed his love for them. He constantly criticized their decisions instead of being proud of them. He disagrees with Lyons decision to be a jazz musician and is especially hard on Corey He feels that Corey should not play college football but should focus on school and work instead. The underlying reason that Troy does not want Corey to be recruited is because he was rejected from playing professional baseball. He believes that if he never had a chance to play, Corey should not either. Corey could always feel the tension between them and one day asked why Troy never liked him. As the play progresses, Troy and Corey’s relationship only gets worse and they begin to get into physical confrontations just as Troy and his father did years ago. Once Troy died Corey felt bitterness and resentment towards his father and refused to attend his funeral. “The whole time I was growing up... living in his house... Papa was like a shadow that followed you everywhere. It weighed on you and sunk into your flesh. It would wrap around you and lay there until you couldn’t tell which one was you anymore. That shadow digging in your flesh. Trying to crawl in. Trying to live through you. Everywhere I looked, Troy Maxson was staring back at me ... hiding under the bed...in the closet. I’m saying I’ve got to find a way to get rid of his shadow, Mama.” (Wilson p.97). After he has a long talk with Rose, he decides to pay respect to his late father.
Troy’s extramarital affair with a woman named Alberta was another factor that drove his family away from him. He continually sees this woman behind Rose’s back, despite the warnings from his best friend Bono. Troy feels that he does not need to tell Rose about the affair and thinks that he can have his cake and eat it too. Soon he learns that Alberta is pregnant and has no choice but to tell Rose the truth. When she finds this out she is devastated to learn that after eighteen years of marriage Troy has been unfaithful. He fails to see that he has deeply hurt his wife. To make matters worse, his mistress Alberta died while giving birth to their daughter. He soon comes to Rose and asks if she would raise the baby. She said yes out of the kindness of her heart but told Troy “Okay Troy... you’re right, I’ll take care of your baby for you...cause like you say...she’s innocent... and you can’t visit the sins of the father upon the child. A motherless child has got a hard time. From right now...this child got a mother. But you a womanless man” (Wilson p. 79).Rose had completely stopped speaking to Troy after that moment. He and Corey are no longer speaking as well. He was basically alone in his own home.
The choices Troy made caused his family so much anguish that toward the end of his life, he had no one. Because of his decision to have an affair, he pushed his wife, the one person who loved him unconditionally, away from him. He put his best friend in a tough position because he knew of the affair and did not want to take sides or see Rose get hurt. Eventually he lost his mistress to difficulties during childbirth. If he had of chosen to be a better father to his sons, maybe they could have had closer relationships. If he had of given Corey the encouragement he truly needed, Corey would have never felt that sense of bitterness and hatred toward his father. Troy could have very well chosen to be a different father to his children but he never broke the cycle. Had things gone differently, his family members would not have had so many negative memories of Troy when he died.
In Alice Walker’s Everyday Use sibling rivalry, being ashamed of family circumstances, and inheritance of precious family heirlooms are what conflict this family. The main character Mama, is the single mother of two daughters and has tried to raise them to the best of her ability. Her two daughters Dee and Maggie have two extremely different personalities. “Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I are suddenly brought together on a T.V. show of this sort. Out of a dark and soft- seated limousine I am ushered into a bright room filled with many people. There I meet a smiling, gray, sporty man like Johnny Carson who shakes my hand and tells me what a fine girl I have. Then we are on stage and Dee is embracing me with tears in her eyes. She pins on my dress a large orchid, even though she has told me once that she thinks orchids are tacky flowers” (Walker p.1). From just this brief description, the reader can automatically realize that Dee is more extravagant than her family members. Dee is the older sibling and is very attractive. “Dee is lighter that Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure. She is a woman now, though sometimes I forget” (Walker p. 2) She is also very intelligent and intellectual. Maggie on the other hand is less attractive, has burns on her body and is slower than her older sister. “ She will stand hopelessly in the corners homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe. She thinks her sister has held life in the palm of one hand, that no is a word the world never learned to say to her” (Walker p. 1). Although it is never verbally expressed, Dee has always felt she was better than Maggie and Maggie has always been somewhat envious of Dee, which cause a slight sibling rivalry between the two.
Because Dee has always been so beautiful and smart she has felt that she was better than her family members. She was educated, knew how to read very well and was probably the first person in her family to attend college. Her mother only had a second grade education and Maggie was not as bright so she did not finish school either. Dee obviously felt ashamed of her two uneducated relatives and felt ashamed of the fact that they lived in poverty. Mama mentions a few times throughout the story that Dee wanted finer things in life. Things that her mother could not afford to give to her. “Dee wanted nice things. A yellow organdy dress to wear to her graduation from high school; black pumps to match a green suit she’d made from an old suit somebody gave me. She was determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts. Her eyelids would not flicker or minutes at a time. Often I fought off the temptation to shake her. At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was” (Walker p.2). Mama knew that Dee was ashamed of the way they lived and this bothered her. Dee never realized that her mother worked hard to give her the things she wanted. She simply looked down on her family.
Soon Dee returns with a new identity and a new boyfriend. She no longer wanted to be called Dee, but preferred being called Wangero. She believed that Dee was a slave name given by “the white man”. She failed to see the symbolic meaning behind her name. She constantly made sly remarks about her sister and her mother as is they were beneath her. She also had her sights set on taking two quilts that had been sewn by her grandmother. These were family heirlooms that Mama had promised to Maggie after Dee had previously called them old fashioned. She told her mother that Maggie would never learn to appreciate the historical value of the quilts the way she did. This left Mama feeling torn between her two daughters. Although Maggie eventually said Dee could have the quilts, for the first time Mama did not allow Dee to have her way. Dee’s selfish ways and arrogance were the main causes for her family’s problems. If she had of just taken the time to appreciate what she had, she would have had a better understanding of her family and their heritage.
Each of the families in these stories had their own issues. Towards the end of each story, these issues were never really resolved. The main cause of the problems between the families was basically selfishness. The representation of family issues in each of these stories is very realistic. As the reader reads on they may be able to identify certain members of their own family.

Works Cited
Walker, Alice “Everyday Use”1973. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. Eds. Kennedy, X.J. and Dana Gioia. 5th Compact Ed. New York Pearson- Longman, 2006.
Wilson, August “Fences” Penguin Books USA Inc. C. 1986
“Dysfunctional Families: How to Overcome the Affects” April 23, 2008
I have chosen to put my paper under the August Wilson category because his play Fences is another one of the main focuses of my paper. In my paper I discuss the representation of dysfunctional families in literature and the Maxson family is truly dysfunctional. I discussed the main character Troy and why the decisions he made caused so much chaos between his family.

Posted by: Shayla Sorrells at February 24, 2012 12:52 PM

English SEL 267 American Literature 1915-Present
Dr. Lee Hobbs
April 30, 2008

Correlation Paper

The Tony Award winning play “Fences” was written by Pittsburgh native, August Wilson. The play takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when Hank Aaron led the Milwaukee Braves to the World Series beating the New York Giants. The main character of the story, Troy, is a baseball player in the Negro Leagues but is too old when African Americans were being drafted into the Major Leagues. He moves on with his life and works for the sanitation company lifting garbage cans into the dump truck. This step back from being a professional athlete and having to settle with an “average Joe” job depresses him. His son, Cory, is offered to tryout for a football recruit coming into town. Troy does everything in his power to prevent Cory from having his same high hopes and expectations in hopes that Cory will keep his job instead. Similar themes of struggle, failure, and depression can also be seen in the song, “One” by Metallica.
In the song, “One” by Metallica, the interpreted themes are of struggle and deep depression. Metallica describes the feelings and struggles of the main character’s everyday life, as well as book and movie “Johnny Get Your Gun” which focuses on a World War I veteran who suffered many injuries. Suffering from deep depression is easily seen in “Fences.” It is also seen and well understood that the veteran would suffer from great depression as well. Evidence of depression in the song “One” is seen in the refrain, “hold my breath as I wish for death, oh please God wake me.” Troy experiences all of these emotions and hardships in the play “Fences” and can be correlated with one another. Through the advances of science and technology, the main characters’ bitterness towards athleticism due to struggle in Wilson’s Play, “Fences” can be seen in parallel to the song “One” written by Metallica’s James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.
Science and technology have advanced rapidly over the last few years, especially in medicine. According to the Civil War Homepage under Civil War Medicine,
“Approximately 620,000 men-360,000 Northerners and 260,000 Southerners-died in the four-year conflict, a figure that tops the total fatalities of all other wars in which America has fought. Of these numbers, approximately 110,000 Union and 94,000 Confederate men died of wounds received in battle. Every effort was made to treat wounded men within 48 hours; most primary care was administered at field hospitals located far behind the front lines. Those who survived were then transported by unreliable and overcrowded ambulances-two-wheeled carts or four-wheeled wagons-to army hospitals located in nearby cities and towns.”
(Civil War)
Research and anthropological studies have recovered a witness’ description of the medical tent during the Civil War posted under the Civil War Homepage estimating 175,000 wounds to extremities among the Federal troops in which 30,000 led to leg amputation. ‘‘Tables about breast high had been erected upon which the screaming victims were having legs and arms cut off. The surgeons and their assistants, stripped to the waist and bespattered with blood, stood around, some holding the poor fellows while others, armed with long, bloody knives and saws, cut and sawed away with frightful rapidity, throwing the mangled limbs on a pile nearby as soon as removed” (Civil War). During this period, according to researchers and specialists of this historic field, the answer to many medical related issues, especially in battle, resulted in butchery. Of course, nothing to that degree exists in today’s medical field, although we are still evolving from what many doctors still consider barbaric.
Atul Gawande, author of National Book Award Finalist, “Complication: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science,” states the place and uncertainty of medicine and how it is constantly evolving, “Medicine is, I have found, a strange and in many ways disturbing business. The stakes are high, the liberties taken tremendous. We drug people, put needles and tubes into them, manipulate their chemistry, biology, and physics, lay them unconscious and open their bodies up to the world. We do so out of an abiding confidence in our know-how as a profession” (Gawande 4). We have evolved so much from the time we used amputation as a cure for wounds in the civil war. Gawande also says that, “What you find when you get in close, however--close enough to see the furrowed brows, the doubts and missteps, the failures as well as the successes--is how messy, uncertain and also surprising medicine turns out to be...You have a cough that won’t go away--and then? It’s not science you all upon but a doctor” (Gawande 4). It is here that Gawande explains to us that it may be an imperfect science because the medium in which science is being utilized, humans, is in fact imperfect. Gawande writes, “A doctor with good days and bad days. A doctor with a weird laugh and a bad haircut. A doctor with three other patients to see and, inevitably, gaps in what he knows and skills he’s still trying to learn” (Gawande 4). Through his explanation, Gawande sheds light on the fact that medicine, even though it has advanced greatly over time, will always be an imperfect science because, like any other person, it is the doctor utilizing the tools to help, not the science. The science itself is only imperfect because we, as humans who conduct such measures, are the limiting factor to obtainable perfection.
Another example of the imperfect science is seen in the lyrics and music video of Metallica’s song “One,” which is based off of Dalton Trumbo’s novel, “Johnny Got Your Gun.” The novel tells a story of a soldier in WWI, who had undergone the rigors of trench warfare. A land mine had hit him leaving him without sight, arms, legs, speech, hearing, and the will to live. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich compose the song that describes medicine and its advancements and how the doctors may have replaced their morals for scientific advancements. Hetfield and Ulrich wrote, “Back in the womb its much too real, In pumps life that I must feel, But cant look forward to reveal,
Look to the time when Ill live, Fed through the tube that sticks in me, Just like a wartime novelty,
Tied to machines that make me be, Cut this life off from me” (Metallica).
Metallica describes the advanced technology in medical science for a patient that who at this point of the story is literally in a ‘in-the womb’ state. He cannot see, hear, smell, move voluntarily, or taste. Through advances in medical science, the doctors are so pleased that they are able to hook him up to tubes and machines that allow him to breath, palpitate his heart, and control blood flow properly, as well as inserted a feeding tube, but they forget how the patient may be feeling in his conscious state. Thus, the main character of this song and novel suffers from great depression as seen in the refrain of the lyrics, “Hold my breath as I wish for death, Oh please god,wake me, Now the world is gone Im just one, Oh god, help me hold my breath as I wish for death, Oh please God help me” (Metallica). This depression from the patient is seen in the lyrics written by Metallica, as his life becomes so meaningless that he begs for death due to his now unfair and mistreated life. Understanding that the main character of the song and novel had undergone much trial and suffering and fighting hurdles that he could not defeat, the main character, Troy, in the playwright “Fences,” also suffered in a similar context, but not with medically related issues.
In the city of Pittsburgh, early in the century where there was yet still a negro baseball league, Troy was a promising baseball player, but eventually left his dream to become a garbage man instead. His dream was left behind because when certain teams in the country began to allow African-Americans in the major leagues, he became too old to be drafted. August wrote in his play “Fences”, “Rose: They got a lot of colored baseball player now. Jackie Robinson was the first. Folks had to wait for Jackie Robinson” (Fences 11). Seeing himself that his time would have been much better well spent working and finding a suitable job, he struggles again to reach a desired goal. Troy wanted to know why the black men had to load the garbage into the truck while only the white men were allowed to drive the trucks. Through much fighting and bickering with his boss, eventually Troy does achieve his goal to drive the garbage truck. And like the evolution of medical science and technology, the medical world too had much struggle to gain the respect that it deserved as an art.
In conclusion, it is struggle, that is shared in the advancement of science and technology also in the same fashion as in “Fences” and “One.” It is the same struggle that Atul Gawande mentioned of medicine being an imperfect science that is constantly evolving and as we can see through example, with much struggle. Medical science suffered with the technology labeled as butchery in the civil war to now involving an art form involving drugs, machines, and precise surgeries performed with extreme care, medicine had to go through many trials to get to where it is today, just as Troy had struggled by not becoming a professional baseball player, but later succeeded by becoming the truck driver. The main character of “One” also struggles because he suffers with the fact that he himself became a scientific experiment for the sake of technological advancement in medicine. Therefore, there is one theme that links the advancement of science and technology, the main character in “One,” and the main character in “Fences”; that theme is struggle.

Works Cited

Civil War Society, . (2006). Civil War Medicine. Retrieved 18 April 2008, from Website:http://


Gawande, Atul, . Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. ed. Vol. . New

York: Macmillan, 2003. 4.

One, director. , Metallica, ., Sweet Silence Studios, 1989.

Wilson, August, . Fences. ed. Vol. . New York: Nal Penguin Inc., 1986. 11.

My final research is posted under August Wilson's, "Fences," because "Fences" was one of the main studies in my research. Tony's struggle for reaching some of his goals is similar to the struggle seen in the other topics discussed in my paper.

Posted by: Robert Debiec at February 24, 2012 12:57 PM

Journey in Langston Hughes’ “On The Road” and August Wilson’s “Fences”

Webster’s defines “journey” as “a trip from one place to another – v.i. travel.” Factmonster.com defines journey as “1. Traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; trip. 2. A distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling. 3. A period of travel. 4. Passage or progress from one stage to another.” I will be dealing with the latter. Great literature takes you on a journey. A journey can either move through the story or through the character’s mind. This can be seen in art, novels, poetry, and short stories. The journey does not have to be an obvious one but it will leave the reader with a sense of time and placement on both a physical and mental point of view. I will be using Langston Hughes’ “On The Road” and August Wilson’s “Fences” to show the main characters Sargeant and Troy go on mental and physical journeys in their respective stories.
In Langston Hughes’ “On the Road”, Sargeant, the main character, goes on a mental journey that seems a physical journey to the reader. Sargeant begins his journey by traveling in the snow at night in search of warmth. His effort however would prove futile. As Sargeant continues to look for shelter, he finds a minister’s home and knocks at the door but he is once again turned away. Sargeant continues his journey and finds a church that seems to glow in the night. He seeks refuge but is once again denied. His temper flairs so he tries to take matters into his own hands and through a series of events he manages to pull down the church.
As the story progresses, the main character proceeds to seek shelter as he walks with the stone Jesus that fell from the church. Somehow Jesus has become a real person to Sargeant and they continue until they part ways and Sargeant is caught trying to jump a rail car and is knocked out by a cop. Sargeant awakens in a jail cell and thinks of nothing but freedom. The reader then comes to the realization that Sargeant’s journey was mostly mental. Sargeant was knocked unconscious by a cop earlier in the story and was locked up all night. Subsequently, the entire journey following the incident of the church was all a figment of his imagination.
In August Wilson’s play, “Fences”, the main character, Troy, is a garbage worker with his best friend Bono. We see how his life is conflicted by some many underlying factors I the 1950s to 60s. "Fences” focuses on Troy as he is in the process of building the fence that Rose’ his wife asks him to build around their yard. The story opens with Troy and Bono speaking about their jobs and a young lady that the guys have been looking at. We later find out that troy has been having an affair with this woman, who’s name is Alberta. WE continue to see troy’s strained relationships with his son Corey, because Cory wants to go to college to play football. This idea is one that troy does not agree with because he feels it is a waste of time. As the story progresses the tension between the family grows until finally troy dies.
In Hughes’ short story, the journey that Sargeant goes on is a mental one. Sargeant’s mindset changes as the story progresses. He goes from seeking shelter to wanting to break down the wall doors. “‘You wait’, mumbled Sargeant, black against the jail wall. ‘I’m gonna break down this door, too’” (L. Hughes’ “On the Road”, p. 5). By this time in the story, Sargeant is no longer thinking of a physical door but he is thinking of the doors that bind societies minds, I feel that the significance of him first wanting to fulfill a physical need such as warmth, hunger, and shelter shows the beginning if his mental journey. He was not concerned with society or the things around him. All that mattered was that he was cold…

“He was not interested in snow, when he got off the freight, one early evening during the depression; Sargeant never even noticed the snow. But he must have felt it seeping down his neck, cold, wet, sopping in his shoes. But if you had asked him, he wouldn’t have known it was snowing. Sargeant didn’t see the snow, not even under the bright lights of the main street, falling white and flaky against the night. He was too hungry, too tired.” (L.Hughes’ “On the Road”, p.1)
Sargeant goes from these primal instincts of survival to rationalism of his actions. When he finds the church he knows it should be an abbey, a safe haven for those in need and instead he is shut out. This causes him to think it is time to take matters into his own hands and try to break into the church. His evolution from primal to rational can be seen when Sargeant sees the church and finally sees the snow. “For the first time that night he saw snow” (L. Hughes, p.1). From his rationalization he vows to a revolutionary mindset where he feels that it is time to get what he wants. “He pushed. With loud, rhythmic grunts” (L. Hughes, p.1). He began to break into the church. As he progressively became more determined, he was confronted by two cops who tried to pull him from the church but he still held on. He pulled down the church. This revolutionary mindset is the one that Sargeant maintains through the rest of the story. He does mellow out towards the end but his mental journey from primal and instinctive to revolutionary and fed up was completed.
In Wilson’s story, Troy goes on a more physical journey. He ages, he gets promoted, builds a fence, changes relationships and finally dies. His journey is one that spans his entire life. His mental does not change much throughout this story but he changes seamlessly physically. Throughout the play there are numerous references to baseball and how great Troy was. Bono, Troy’s friend, tells how Troy was even better than Jackie Robinson. (Act 1, Scene 1). We later find out that by the time Major League Baseball allowed blacks to play, Troy was too old. We also see changes in his status. Troy complains to Mr. Rand, his boss, about the inequality at his job. Troy later receives a job as the first black garbage truck driver. Another element that shows that Troy’s journey is one that takes place physically is the ever growing fence that Rose, his wife, asks him to build. In the beginning it is just starting and is finally completed just before the end. the final physical changes can be found in the changes in Troy’s relationships. He strains his relationship with Rose and Corey, and loses Alberta. In the end Troy never changes his mind on anything but ages and dies.
In conclusion I have found that literature takes the reader’s mind on a journey. We as readers follow the characters in their time and mental conditions and feel a sense of completion with them at the end. All stories whether they are short stories, poetry, novels, or plays, all have a sense of a journey. The journey can be one that changes setting, one that changes a state of mind or one that completely changes everything. We as readers long for a sense of connection to a piece of literature as we read it and that sense of connection comes from how well the author tells the story. Is the story one that can be related to, is it one that makes us think? As long as literature is around for enjoyment these qualities must be met. Both Hughes’ and Wilson’s characters go on journeys through the story and it is these journeys that allow for the readers to connect with these characters. Although Sargeant’s journey was mental and Troy’s was physical, they were both journeys nevertheless and being such allows for the sense of beginning and end that all journeys require.

Work Cited

Langston Hughes: “On The Road Again”
August Wilson: “Fences”. Penguin Group. Penguin Books USA inc.,375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. 1986

I chose this blog because it my paper speaks on the correlation between August Wilson's "Fences" and "On the Road", by Langston Hughes.

Posted by: Shantavia Burchette at February 24, 2012 01:05 PM


*NOTE* The deadline for this particular assignment has now passed. Any comments listed below are *ONLY* for the reposting of comments that I specifically asked to be revised or are ones from non-student posters. Any 'student' posts below that missed the assignment deadline will not get credit for the assignment. ~ Dr. Hobbs

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at February 24, 2012 01:09 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
13 February 2012

Swinging for the Fences: An Interpretation of Ransom in Application to Wilson

August Wilson’s play Fences might seem tailored for the application of theories such as African American Criticism, Marxist Criticism, or Feminist Criticism, but the somewhat lyrical and, at times, poetic nature of the language present in this work also lends itself to a New Criticism interpretation of the text. In this application, John Crowe Ransom’s concept of value stemming from structure in unison to texture will be utilized to elucidate some interesting aspects of the work.

In his essay “Criticism as Pure Speculation,” John Crowe Ransom states that “The intent of the good critic becomes therefore to examine and define the poem with respect to its structure and its texture” (Ransom 458). For Ransom, if the critic solely focused on either the meaning of a work or the way in which it was written, he was missing crucial elements pertinent to an apt reading of the text. Indeed, one must utilize both the substance of the language and its arrangement in order to fully interpret the work and illuminate its truest meaning. Utilizing a house analogy to illustrate this point, Ransom states there is a “logical structure” and “local texture” to every work (Ransom 457). He continues by stating that “[t]he walls of my room are obviously structural; . . . [and] [t]he paint, the paper, the tapestry are texture” (Ransom 458). In this example, the structure of the poem, its language, is the supporting foundation upon which the texture, or narrative substance, is built. As will be apparent, taking the structure without the form (or the form without the structure) and attempting to analyze it as an autonomous entity will leave an incomplete picture in the wake.

Though for this application the narrative substance of the play Fences can be readily discernible vis-à-vis a few common literary tropes—subsistence through hardship, a search for meaning, and a strained father and son relationship that elucidates character—it is the mode by which Ransom unfolds these thematic elements on the page that cause them to be readily understood in a more natural, a more pertinent, and a more significant way. Since language is being analyzed here and there is a plethora of examples to choose from (most of the written work is dialogue or monologue), the critic is not hard pressed to find pertinent examples from the text.

One need not look further than the opening pages of Fences in order to witness the significance language plays in the work. From the first few lines, the linguistic stage is set. Two of the main characters, Troy and Bono, discuss the incompetence of their supervisors. Bono begins by stating, “I’m like you . . . I ain’t got no time for them kind of people” (Wilson 2). This style of speech—though undoubtedly accurate for the time, the place, and the context—causes the modern reader to work more arduously to establish an ease of pacing in interacting with the text. Troy continues the conversation: “Now what he look like getting mad cause he see the man from the union talking to Mr. Rand?” (Wilson 2). This style of speech is common throughout the text and illustrates the presence language plays in the story. By writing dialogue in the manner of the time and the locale, Wilson more accurately depicts the setting. For the reader, attending to the structure of the text in this way aids in the interpretation of the work. As a critic, it seems inadequate to focus exclusively on the narrative texture without discussing the linguistic structure. Without the two in unison, a critique would more than likely fall flat.

Ultimately, the texture of the text is so entwined with the structure that to divorce the two and analyze them separately would be akin to commenting on only half a picture. Wilson utilizes language in order to augment the narrative and influence the work on a whole. The structure and texture come together nicely in order to create a work of art that would be lacking otherwise. Wilson completed his task by producing the work. For Ransom, now it is up to the critic to utilize the context and the structure to arrive at the ultimate meaning to which this work aspires.

Works Cited

Ransom, John Crowe. “Criticism as Pure Speculation.” 1941. The Intent of the Critic.Ed.
Donald A.Stauffer. Princeton UP, 1941. 41-62. Rpt. in Criticism: Major Statements. 4th
ed. Eds. Charles Kaplan and William Anderson. Boston: Bedford, 2000. 448–64. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume, 1986. Print.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at February 26, 2012 11:48 AM

Fish and Fences: Incorporating Interpretive Strategies

In his selection, “Interpretive Communities,” Stanley Fish outlines his concept of what makes up a reading experience with his idea of interpretive strategies, which make up a part of larger interpretive communities. For Fish, interpretive strategies on the part of the reader are what dictate how a work is “produced.” This idea corresponds with Fish's notion that it is the reader that “writes” the text through the interpretive strategy he or she employs in their reading. When it comes to August Wilson's Fences, interpretive strategies on the part of the reader (in this case, me), as outlined by Fish, become evident after some analysis.
In his selection, Fish writes about his reading experience of John Milton's Lycidas. In that experience, Fish writes about how in entering his reading of the poem, he had already made two interpretive decisions. Fish writes that those decisions were, “(1) that Lycidas is a pastoral and (2) that it was written by Milton” (217). By laying out these decisions, Fish attempts to illustrate how they play a part in his larger interpretive strategy. In reference to this point, Fish writes that, “Once these decisions have been made . . . I am immediately predisposed to perform certain acts” (217). What this means is that Fish goes into his reading of the poem already with certain ideas in mind about what the work is about and what its message might be.
Similar to how Fish enters his reading of Lycidas with certain predispositions, so do I in my reading of Fences. Before I started reading the play, I already had certain knowledge of it which created an expectation on what the play's intentions may be. For example, I knew that the playwright, August Wilson, was an African American who grew up at the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement. And I knew that the play was about an African American family set in the 1950s, when blacks were still heavily discriminated against. These predispositions, or interpretive decisions, had me entering my reading of Fences with the idea that Wilson's intention in writing the play was probably to illustrate the hardship of a lower-working class African American family in the 50s and how different family members dealt with issues of race and patriarchy. These interpretive decisions I made going to my reading can be compared to ones I made of a different play, one that Fences is often compared to, Death of a Salesman.
In his essay, Fish too writes about how he had different interpretive decisions made going into different works. However, where some critics may see this as reason to dismiss an analysis predicated on the reader, Fish uses that fact to establish his claim that it is “because my predisposition to execute different interpretive strategies will produce different formal structures” (218). This ties in with Fish's idea that it is the reader's interpretive strategies, and the interpretive communities as a larger whole, that “write” the text.
When I entered my reading of Death of a Salesman, my predispositions, or interpretive decisions, were very different than that of Fences. I knew that the play was written by Arthur Miller, a renown American playwright. I knew that the play was set during the 1940s. And I could deduce from the title that the play was about some kind of businessman or entrepreneur and that the word “death” indicated an unhappy ending.
Already it becomes evident of how different my interpretive strategies were. In beginning my reading of Fences, I was expecting a play to be heavy in racial undertones and that, given the ethnicity of the writer, there may be some message about the rampant racism of the time. However, entering my reading of Death of a Salesman, there did not exist any expectation of racial themes of any kind. These two distinct approaches are examples of interpretive strategies that play an important role in creating a larger interpretive community, which Fish writes, is “made up of those who share interpretive strategies . . . for writing texts” (219). Therefore, the approaches I brought with me to each reading of each respective play were a part of my “writing” of the text.

Works Cited

Fish, Stanley. “Interpretive Communities.” 1976. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden : Blackwell, 2004. 217-21. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences. 1983. New York: Theatre Communications, 2007. Print.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at February 26, 2012 11:50 AM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
9 March 2012
The Role of Writing in Wilson’s Fences
In her article on “Writing,” Barbara Johnson explains the importance of writing, language, and how the role of the text plays into the interpretations of the reader. Writing about influential thinkers in the realm of philosophy, literary thought, and the elements of speech and diction, it is important the Johnson discusses how the slightest choices in writing can make a vast impact on the audience. One of the works that we have examined this semester, August Wilson’s Fences, is a good example of the importance of word choice and how it can alter the perspective and understanding of the audience. For example, the use of diction that August Wilson employs with the dialogue of his characters, namely Troy and Bono, allows him to introduce and emphasize to his readers the world of the black Americans of the time and their struggles with education, society, and identity. He focuses on the theme of baseball, setting it us as a symbol of the traditional American dream and pastime in the 1950’s. Furthermore, with the specific selections of his characters’ jobs in their society, he comments on the economic and class struggles that were prevalent of the time, especially for minorities in America and the role of these struggles for all Americans as a result of the umbrella of war and the pre-civil rights movement. Wilson’s writing does, however, leave some hope towards the end of the play because not only has he showcased the difficulties of the time, the nation, and the people, but he has also left room for growth pending the members of society understanding the world around them and making an effort to grow and develop in that world. Troy and Bono seem to be fighting against the changes in society at various points throughout the novel, and there are some new opportunities that Wilson showcases as coming to light for the black American community, if only they strive to take advantage of those opportunities and change with the times around them, for better or worse.
Being able to touch on such a wide variety of social issues and criticisms, Wilson is a great example of how subtle messages in his writing and various themes and symbolisms can have more meaning than those at face value. As a result, his writing is so selective and allows the importance of speech, language, diction, and style to shine through in the way that his readers and audience are able to understand and interpret his writing and relate their own logic and experience to that writing.

Work Cited
Johnson, Barbara. “Writing.” 1990. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 340-48. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume, 1986. Print.

Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at March 24, 2012 11:30 AM

Diego Pestana
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435 – Literary Criticism
18 April 2012
The Invisible Influence: An Examination of the Economic Factors in Fences
August Wilson's Fences is a tragic play that revolves around the life of a middle aged black man living in segregated America during the 1950s. Troy Maxson, the play's main character, is a victim of his environment – an environment that has limited what he can achieve and do in life based on simply the color of his skin. And it is that environment that is the play's hidden, or invisible, antagonist. From the time he is a young man in the prime of his athletic prowess in baseball to when he is a grown man with a family to support looking for a promotion in his line of work, the political, social, and economic conditions of what is believed to be Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania constantly prevent Troy from achieving his dreams and desires. No one character affects or dictates the outcome of the play more than the economic system that Troy and his family suffers from. An examination of the characteristics and makeup of this economic system can shed some light into understanding the intrinsic importance the economy is to the freedom, desires, and lives of those that partake in it. Thus, by developing an economically sound understanding of the system that exists in Fences it can then be deciphered how such an unjust system can exist, and how similar models can be avoided by understanding its inherent flaws.
Before an analysis of the economy in Fences can begin, it must first be established what type of lens will be employed in criticizing the play's economic system, and how that lens is best fit to analyze the economy's features. While a more traditional route to take in examining a literary work's economic structure would be that of a more Marxist origin, employing a framework that is more economically sound and less skeptical of the market economy illustrates that much of the troubles caused by the economic and political system in Fences is a result not of a true market economy, where a complete separation of economy and government exists, but a result of an economy that has been corrupted by government interference. Thus, employing a Marxist perspective in analyzing August Wilson's play would be economically disingenuous as the economy Troy partakes in is not that of a true market economy, as will be illustrated. But, before the economic system of Fences can be dissected, it will help to understand the key differences between employing a Marxist analysis and a more libertarian, or free market, analysis.
As Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan point out in an overview of Marxist criticism in Literary Theory: An Anthology, one essential assumption present in Marxist criticism is “that culture, including literature, functions to reproduce the class structure of society” (644). This is very much in line with the defining work of the namesake of this analysis, Karl Marx's Manifest of the Communist Party, wherein Marx states, “The History of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (341). For Marx, the paradigm that exists for these class struggles consists of the bourgeoisie, the more capitalist class, or owners of the means of production and wages, and the proletariat, who are primarily the laborers for the bourgeoisie. Now, while Marx is not wrong in pointing out grave disparity between the proverbial haves and have-nots, where Marx, and his subsequently styled literary critics, go astray is in judging the guilty entity of such injustices to be the capitalist economic system. In his Manifesto, Marx goes on to decry what he believes to be the ills of capitalism when he writes that it “has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest” (342). Marx also goes on to denounce the burgeoning, capitalistic practice of what he calls “unconscionable freedom – Free Trade” which he says “has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” (343). And once more, while the complaints Marx lodges are not unduly, the inherent flaw in Marxism places the blame on market economies. This flaw is culminated where Marx writes, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (342). This statement by Marx illustrates that the founder of the ideology surrounding Marxist criticism did not have a whole understanding of what Capitalism is and what it entails. An understanding of the opposite economic perspective – an Austrian perspective – will assist in realizing where it is Marxists go astray.
The Austrian School of Economics is named as such because the economists credited with its founding and flourishing, men like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich August Hayek, were of Austrian origin. The Austrian School differs significantly with Marxism because of the value it places on the free market and the actions of free individuals participating in an economy. As Paul Cantor points out in Literature and the Economics of Liberty, Austrian economics “focuses on the freedom of the individual actor and the subjectivity of values” (10). Where Marxists see actors in an economy as unknowing sheep, so to speak, falling victim to an all-powerful capitalist system, Austrians may see individuals acting on their own volition according to the values they subjectively place on goods and services. And if there is corruption in the economic system, it is not Capitalism that is to blame, but the interference of government and rent seekers. While Marx decried the capitalist notion of self-interest, Cantor, in line with the Austrian perspective on self-interest, writes that capitalism involves “the free and uncoordinated interaction of individuals who may be aiming at their own limited goals but nevertheless end up producing a larger social good” (11). Yet, the main difference between Marxism and Austrian economics is how the former views capitalism as the cause of human suffering while the latter contends that, as Cantor points out, “capitalism has vastly improved the human condition and that many of the evils laid at its doorstep are really the result of government interference with the normal functioning of the market” (11). It is this difference between Marxism and Austrian economics that affects the very core of any economic analysis of a literary work. If it is opted to use a lens that views capitalism as a system in which government and private business collusion is inherent, as Marxists believe, then that analysis will differ greatly from one that believes government and private business collusion to be antithetical to a market economy. At this point, an Austrian perspective will be employed to view the economic structure of Fences to show how they very problems with government interference in the economy is largely to blame for the misfortunes Troy goes through.
From the outset of the play, the audience or reader is introduced to some of the economic problems that Troy is facing at his place of employment. On his way back home from work, Troy tells his friend Bono about a conversation that he had with one of his supervisors regarding his duties at work. The issue that Troy is contending deals with how, as a garbage man, the colored employees are the ones who are delegated to do the heavy lifting while the white men are designated as the drivers of the garbage trucks. In attempt to accept responsibilities he'd be more open to doing in driving the garbage truck, Troy says to Bono, “All I want them to do is change the job description” (11). Thus, within the first few lines of dialogue of the play, the importance of the economic, social, and political conditions that affect Troy and his family are made apparent. From the moment the audience first meets Troy, he is combating the economic system that has consigned him to a lesser role where the labor is more arduous, but the pay unrewarding. A closer examination of Troy's situation at his place of employment through both a Marxist lens and Austrian lens will be able to illustrate which economic analysis is more sound and that, in turn, will lead into a greater understanding of the economic system that exists in the play.
From a Marxist perspective, the situation Troy faces at work is emblematic of the idea of constant class struggle. In this case, the struggle would be between the proletariat working man, Troy, and the bourgeoisie, the wage payers in charge of the capital utilized in delivering the trucks. For Marxists, the struggle that Troy goes through is trying the “change the job description” is par for the course when it comes the capitalist economic system. As a result of the white bourgeoisie pursuing their own self-interest, the black proletariat are left suffering financially because of an inability to be put on an equal level with the white men in the workplace. This, for Marxists, is a predictable result when it comes to a market economy; the bourgeoisie are in control of the means of production and do what they can to ensure the proletariat remain in a state of dependence. However, once an Austrian analysis of the same situation is utilized, it can actually be shown that the problem Troy faces is not the fault of capitalism, but of government interference in the market.
Bearing in mind that for adherents to Austrian economics the root of most economic trouble is government interference in the marketplace, historical context must be taken into account to understand the government's role in Troy's misfortune. While it is supposedly a private garbage collection company for which Troy works, to simply claim that its practice of differentiating labor between the whites and blacks is purely a profit-seeking one resulting from a capitalist system would be to discount notable influence governments wielded during the timeframe in which the play is set. Fences is set in the 1950s, and during that time in the United States governmental laws that promoted racism and segregation, like Jim Crow laws, were still very much influential on how businesses conducted themselves and how individuals in the economy acted. One of the most abhorrent ideas that was prevalent during this timeframe resulted in the status of “separate but equal” for African Americans. And, true to the disruptive nature of government for Austrians, this idea was largely a result of policies set forth by the government. Thus, even if the white employers where Troy worked had it in them to pay blacks the same pay for same work as the whites, societal and governmental pressure would have prevented them from doing so. And this prevention in and of itself is antithetical to a true capitalist system as it bars the most important and effective regulator of any free market: competition. Therefore, a reading of this situation in Fences from an Austrian perspective results in an understanding that the economy that causes Troy to suffer is not a truly capitalist one. Rather, the suffering that Troy goes through, for Austrians, is exactly what is to be expected when government interferes with employment and other business practices in the economy.
By understanding what truly characterizes a capitalist economy, that is an economy with no government interference, it becomes evident that the play's antagonist, the economy, is not a capitalist one, but one where government has stepped in and dictated certain rules and practices that do not favor all individuals who participate in the economy. In this respect, August Wilson can be seen as illustrating the ill effects of government interference in his place as his main character suffers greatly from it. Given this possibility, it appears that Wilson is making the case that Austrian economists have spent centuries trying to convey, but in a much more artistic and creative matter.
Works Cited
Cantor, Paul. Literature and the Economics of Liberty. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009. Print.
Marx, Karl. Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1848. Nineteenth-Century Philosophy. 3rd ed. Eds. Forrest Baird and Walter Kaufmann. Upper Saddle River : Prentice Hall, 2003. 340-51. Print.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “Introduction: Starting with Zero.” 2004. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden : Blackwell, 2004. 643-46. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences. 1983. New York: Theatre Communications, 2007. Print.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at April 23, 2012 05:49 PM

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