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Restraint is the main theme in the play 'fences'. The picket fence that is built around their house symbolizes family unity and it prevents intruders from interfering with the family's privacy. Initially, this fence served this function well but after some time this function shifts from a unifying factor to a family divider. A good incident that can exemplify this is when Troy fails to be committed to the fence build around him and his wife Rose; this is analogous to his lack of commitment to their union as a married couple. The literal meaning of 'fences' in the story therefore represents interpersonal bonds that had been formed in Troy's life. The intended purpose of fences comes out after Troy started distancing himself from Rose and his entire family. Rose is seen struggling to rekindle the love that was there and at some point, she requests her husband to build the picket fence hoping that it would keep the family together. She is ready to own her family by keeping anyone who would break the fence away (Wilson, 15).
Majority of the conflicts that arise in the play are related to the way in which characters look at the past and the future. For instance, Cory, Troy's son, does not agree with his father on issues concerning his future. Troy looks at his son's future by looking at his past life. He does not want his son to end up miserable and disappointed in life. The main issue that brought about this difference is the fact that Cory wants to continue practicing football after school. Troy is opposed to this since he was very disappointed when he attempted to become a professional baseball player (Shannon, 89). He therefore demands that Cory must quit the football team with immediate effect. This issue breaks the bond between them since Cory believes that time have changed since at the time of their father, racism formed the basis of selection into such teams. Cory is positive that he has what it takes to join the professional sports world; he even tells his father that he will be excluded like he was (Wilson, 23-25). At some point Rose tells Troy 'He's just trying to be like you with sports" (1.3.118) Troy does not take this kindly since he thinks that his son will end up regretting joining sports. Rose was jus trying to inform him that Croy's love for football is inherent since he (Troy) also loved sports when he was younger. This served as a major factor that caused the weakening of the fence that was built between Troy and his son.
Cory attempts to show his father that African-Americans can also emerge successful in sports. He says "The Braves got Hank Aaron and Wes Covington. Hunk Aaron hit two home runs today. That makes forty-three." (1.3.120) Troy in turn tells his son that "Hank Aaron ain't nobody." Troy does not want to believe that the world has changes since this would mean that all his dreams will be killed. He does not want to side with his son because it will make him to appear a loser. This does not however mean that Troy does not want the best for his son. He considers it more important if Croy was going to go back to his work place, since he terms it as an ideal working environment. However, in the process of trying to ensure that his son's future is bright, he undermines his potential hence shattering his dreams.
It is the act of trying to determine what is good or bad for Croy that the interpersonal relationship between them is ruined. Troy becomes resistant to his son's efforts of gaining an identity. He wants to make decisions for his son despite the fact that Croy is a grown man. Throughout the play, Troy is seen trying to shape his son into what he wants him to be rather than giving him a chance to explore possibilities of his choice. Cory turns against his father by employing measures that make their relationship bitter. Episode after episode, the relationship between Cory and his father is compromised by violence, this also changes Cory. Following this, Cory sees violence as the only means of having his or her voice heard. Although he may be right that violence can indeed enhance communication with his father, he does not realize that this tears his family apart since the relationship between him and his father weakened each passing day. In addition, this shapes his character since he decides to be independent. This resistance makes Croy to hate his father and opt to leave their home.
'Fences' also depicts Cory's failure to understand the gap that exists between his generation and that one of his father and how this affects their perspectives of looking at things. That is why every time they communicate with his father conflict results, moreover, it is through these misunderstandings that Cory establishes his self identity. After Troy's death, Cory tells rose that "Papa was like a shadow that flowed you everywhere" (2.5.81)he had come to resent his father because he wanted to dictate his life although he had a right to do so. The differences between him and his father cause him to refuse to attend the funeral. Rose responds by saying "The shadow wasn't nothing but you growing yourself. You got to either grow into it or cut it down to fit you" (1.5.86). The mode in which Troy attempted to assert his authority over Croy is in scene one act three (1.325-1.3.26). Here Croy had already established his father's aim of wanting to be the overall decision maker. Critics suggest that it is possible that Troy could have felt powerless in other areas of his life hence he feels that he has to maintain his male ego through wanting to be in charge of all family matters. This acts as a major problem since it does not work for the best of the family fence.
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When Troy reveals to his wife the secret that he has been having a secret relationship with another woman and that they have a child together, she feels betrayed and unloved. The bond that was once there between them weakens as Troy tends to distance himself from his wife and his family. Bono, Troy's friend states that "Some people build to keep people out...and other...to hold on to you all. She loves you" (2.1.32). Bono is the view that Rose is trying to mend the fence between Troy and Croy since she has detected that her family bond is weakening. She becomes aware that tension between the two is heightening hence she must do something to prevent that from happening. The act of trying to build the fence could have also been necessitated by the fact that she sensed that her husband could be having an affair. Rose does not want to have her family torn apart by such differences hence she figures that something needs to be done. Rose is distressed upon realizing that Troy has an illegitimate child particularly because of the family she was brought up in. She had always wanted her family to be a traditional one in that it was made up of one mother and one father. Unfortunately, her husband has dashed her hopes after their marriage of eighteen years, she sadly tells Troy "And you know I ain't wanted no half nothing in my family" (2.1.102). her marriage had been stable until she realizes that Troy is having an affair outside the marriage, the commitment between them which is compared to a fence that was once compete but is now weak. Rose is not happy when Troy chases his son out of their home and asserting that "You a man. Now let's see...there in the alley...you can forget about this house "(2.4.75). Rose knew perfectly well that this could break the family bond further since Croy would resent his father (Bloom, 116).
Lyons, Troy's son with another woman does not believe that his father has no right to make decisions for him since he (Troy) was not there for him when he was growing up. He is said to have spent his childhood with his mother since his father was in jail. He feels that he has all rights to make decisions that relate to his future life. He is quoted saying "If you wanted to change me, you should've been there when I was growing up. "(1.1.155). Lyons wants to restrict his father from attempting to make decisions that have to do with him. Here, Troy wish to build a fence around him and Lyons does not come true since Lyons notices this and warns his father in advance. Lyons is sure about what he wants to do with his life and he is not ready to allow Troy to come in between him and his dreams. Lyons is a good representation of Troy's failure to create a strong fence around his family and being a responsible father.
Baseball as a metaphor
Troy says publicly that "Death should be described as a fastball on the outside corner" in act one scene one. He believes that he cannot be defeated since he has overcome much in his life hence he claims that he does not fear death either. He considers baseball as the best time in his entire life; nonetheless, he sees it at as having shattered his dreams. That is why he is determined not to let his son undergo what he experienced. Death and baseball have been linked in such a way that brings a sensible relationship. Troy is aware that when he dies, he will no longer be able to execute his powers in the same way that he could not do anything when he was not selected to play baseball. He had no option but to quit since racial segregation played a major role in determining who was to be in the team (Brandford, 1). Troy uses baseball to explain most of his actions. In the same act, he says "Death ain't nothing to play with, And I know that he's gonna get me" despite this, he does not allow himself to succumb to death. The baseball metaphors are used as the play progresses to compare death with a baseball.
At some point, he loudly mocks death daring it to come after him and warns his son that his behavior is forcing him to strike out. He is very proud of baseball and he knows that he conquered it on his own. He stills recalls that he conquered pneumonia and that he was able to survive in his childhood when his father mistreated him. He figures that if he overcame all that and also baseball, then he can conquer death since he considers himself as immortal in issues related to death. In the same way that he is proud of baseball, he is also attitude towards death is proud.
Whenever he talks about death, he uses baseball terminologies. When he mocks his son Croy he says "You swung and you missed. That's strike one. Don't strike out! He attempts to make comparisons between death and baseball (Robertson, 1). He is very fond of using the baseball terminologies that he uses them even when confessing to Rose about his affair. He is honest to Rose since he tells her about the child and the mistress using baseball metaphors, he tells her "I fooled them, I blunted.....I wasn't going to strike out any more....I wasn't gonna get that last strike. I was on first looking for one of them boys to knock me in..." (2.3.54). Rose responds to this by stating that "You should have stayed in my bed, Troy" (2.3.54). Troy in turn gives Rose the main reason that led him into sleeping with another woman by informing Rose that "Then I saw that girl....she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking if I had tries...I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second" (2.3.54).
One thing that makes it possible for Troy to use baseball terminologies is that he was familiar with them since he was a baseball player. Another important thing to note is that he was fond of baseball despite the fact that he could not be allowed to continue playing due to racial discrimination. The use of baseball metaphors are important to him since he is proud of the sport even though he does not realize his dream of becoming a baseball player. Whenever he uses baseball terminologies in normal communication, he feels proud of himself since he believes that he conquered the game. During his time, baseball players and other sports were selected depending on their color. Racism had taken root and not much could be done then since the minority group had no one to advocate for their rights. They could not be treated the same as whites and although the state was aware of this, not much was done to stop this vice. This could be the reason why Troy was using the terminologies although he did not have a good chance of proving that he could actually play baseball, at least he had the basics and according to him, this was an enough indicator that he had conquered the sport.