Over the Fence.

Essay by lordcmajestic December 2005

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The most prevalent image in August Wilson's "Fences" is baseball. It is the sport that defines Troy Maxson's life and provides the measure of his success. Indeed, Wilson has constructed the play into nine scenes--or innings--to emphasize the connection. According to Christine Birdwell in Aethlon, the innings correspond to the seasons of Troy's life. In some innings, Troy is the hero who wins for his team, his family. These are the innings defined by Troy's success: his early success as a great hitter for the Negro Leagues, his protest at work that wins him a promotion to driver, and his noble, responsible efforts to provide for his family. But some innings are losses for Troy (and his team): his misunderstandings and painful confrontations with his two sons, his institutionalizing of his brother Gabriel, his broken relationships with Rose and Bono, and the death of Alberta. In the ninth inning, when Troy is dead, his family gathers in the yard to remember Troy's wins and losses.

Birdwell noted that Wilson does not provide much information about the black baseball leagues in his play. The role baseball plays in framing Troy's strengths and weaknesses is more important than the history of the game itself. Instead the emphasis is on characterization. The audience learns that Troy was a good hitter and that his home run average far exceeded those of many white players. Nevertheless, the Negro League was not a source of viable income for its players; Troy could not have bought his home without the additional money from Gabriel's disability checks. In one of his complaints about the color line in baseball, Troy observes that he "saw Josh Gibson's daughter yesterday. She was walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet." He then compares Gibson's child to the...