“Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol

Paper Info
Page count 5
Word count 1450
Read time 5 min
Topic Literature
Type Essay
Language 🇺🇸 US

August Wilson was born on April 27th, 1945, and passed on at the age of sixty years. The author and writer of this play was the sixth child of a German and African American parent (Britannica, 2020). His parent separated at an early age, and he had to grow up in the Pittsburgh ghetto neighborhood. After quitting school in the ninth grade after being accused of ghostwriting, August kept attending to his studies by reading books in the library; he started a community troupe that staged plays. August Wilson’s plays were recognized in theatres and received several awards.

Fences was a play written after the second world war when racism was at its peak. Social realism is a social drama that brings out the psychological and economic hardships of African American families by social and employment obstacles. Fences show the challenges that families and friends in the play encounter. After the war, August used the play fences to deliver the treatment that black folk received clearly. For instance, truck drivers were all white men while the heavy lifting was left to the black man “why? Why you got the white mens driving and the colored lifting?” (Wilson, 1998).

The play’s title signified the importance of fences to families as it established a barrier set around their homes to assure their families’ safety is long-standing. The Fence also symbolizes the relationship between the characters and their interactions. The wall has a different meaning to the families and their loved ones, representing faithfulness, racist responsibilities, and the right thing. The Fence in Troy’s house yard is essential in the play since it symbolizes protection, relationships, racism, and hardships. All through the play, a fence is viewed as a protection tool to the characters. As seen from Rose at the beginning as she sings, “Jesus, be a fence all around me every day. Jesus, I want you to protect me as I travel on my way.” (Wilson, 1998). It is evident that she is insecure about her safety and wants protection. This Fence to Rose was a sign that she wanted to nurture her children and keep them safe from any harm. She reminiscences fencing off ad fencing in her family’s lives. Rose viewed the Fence as a wall that separated them from the racist world of white supremacy. Rose views a fence as a sign of love and devotion from Troy towards their family. However, Cory and Troy are reluctant to finish Rose’s project of putting up the Fence.

The Fence between Bono and Troy signifies the territory that they have, and as Bono had noted, Rose wanted a fence for protection. From this thought, Troy decided to build a fence to protect himself too. “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold onto you all. She loves you?” (Wilson, 1998). Troy decides to look for hardwood to build his Fence to ensure his safety from all his problems “Nigger, why you got to go and get some hardwood? You ain’t doing nothing but building a little old fence. Get you some soft pine wood. That’s all you need.” (Wilson, 1998).

Troy uses the Fence to mark his territory and uses it to shows that he is the head of the family, and as long as they are under his roof, they must abide by his rules. As the last son, cory has little respect for his father “Nigger, as long as you in my house, you put that sir on the end of it when you talk to me.” (Wilson, 1998). On the other hand, Cory decides to join the football team instead of helping build the Fence and incurs the wrath of Troy. Despite the different understanding of a fence, each character views it as a form of protection.

Separation as a theme is made possible by the decisions made by Troy, who takes duty as the family foundation and does not express his love to his children and family. To troy family was a duty that he could not distinguish from a professional one, and from this, his relationship with his family is left in tatters. Troy decides to chase Cory away from his house for not following his rules, and from this action, their relationship is destroyed. Troy, as a father, failed in showing love to his children and ended up drifting away with the as shown by his interaction with Lyons. “Nigger, as long as you in my house, you put that sir on the end of it when you talk to me.” (Wilson, 1998). The Fence, in this case, is used to mark the boundaries that he holds that should not be crossed, and his two sons not doing so crosses his limits.

Troy constructs the Fence around his yard to keep away from other people and guard against others. Troy puts up the Fence to separate his current life from the outside world that he could never have. In the end, the Fence was used to symbolize his departure from the living as his end came. Troy, who managed to reunite his family, was then separated through death. And as a symbol, the Fence shows the boundary between the living and the dead. Gabriel tells troy to get ready as the heavens gates are opening and by blowing his trumpet, “hey, rose. Its time to tell St. peter to open the gates. Troy, you ready? You ready, troy. I’m gonna sayst. peter to open the gates. You get ready now.” (Wilson, 1998) and having a sendoff for him, he is eternally separated from them.

Troy is separated from Gabriel as he moves in with miss pearl. Gabriel has offered two rooms in the basement in miss pearl house and is excited to have his keys. “got me two rooms. In the basement. Got my own door too. Wanna see my key? that’s my own key! Ain’t nobody else got a key like that. Hats my key. My two rooms!” (Wilson, 1998). Troy is worried about Gabriel’s health, but he respects his wishes and decides to stay away. This causes the brothers to be separate from each other. Troy’s decisions were ultimately wrong, and because of these actions, his relationships with the people closest to him were ruined.

The Fence in the play Fence metaphorically shows racism and divides the Maxson family (Britannica, 2020). Troy’s dream career was to be a baseball player, and he was an excellent player. Still, he could not be allowed to play because of his skin color “if he is like you in the sport… he’s gonna be alright. Ain’t but two men ever played baseball as good as you…” (Wilson, 1998), and as heard from Bono, the war and discrimination shattered his dreams. Troy always wanted to be a player, and him hearing that Cory was playing football, he did not want his son to go through what he went through; thus it leads to conflicts with his son, and without listing to others, he decided that his son quit football and find a job rather than playing football; these actions lead to his separation from a son.

As the play starts, we hear about some of the issues affecting troy at work and his launching complaints but were instead shot down. Troy’s complaints and racism in the era clearly show “why, why did you get the white mens driving and the colored lifting?” (Wilson, 1998), favoring whites over black people. Troy also shows how racism in the era was high when he complains about not being allowed to own a house with more rooms because of his color, saying that only whites are allowed to own homes with toilets inside.

The Fence is also used to represent all the hardships the characters experience. Troy had to go through many sufferings as he grew up, and his building a fence was from the past experiences that urged him to build a protective barrier around his family and children to provide them a better future than his. He grows up under a very abusive father, in poverty, and in homelessness. Troy decides to do it as a duty to his family as compared to his

In conclusion, a “fence” in the play symbolizes the division present in history at the time. A fence in the play distinguishes between the different abilities that the black characters possess, such as football talent, and the segregation of the people at that time. To Rose and her family, the Fence meant a place that could be safe for them as well as a place they could grow in away from outside forces.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2020). August Wilson. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web.

Wilson, A. (1998). Fences. Penguin Books.

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NerdyBro. (2022, June 7). “Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol. Retrieved from https://nerdybro.com/fences-by-august-wilson-the-fence-as-a-significant-symbol/


NerdyBro. (2022, June 7). “Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol. https://nerdybro.com/fences-by-august-wilson-the-fence-as-a-significant-symbol/

Work Cited

"“Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol." NerdyBro, 7 June 2022, nerdybro.com/fences-by-august-wilson-the-fence-as-a-significant-symbol/.


NerdyBro. (2022) '“Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol'. 7 June.


NerdyBro. 2022. "“Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol." June 7, 2022. https://nerdybro.com/fences-by-august-wilson-the-fence-as-a-significant-symbol/.

1. NerdyBro. "“Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol." June 7, 2022. https://nerdybro.com/fences-by-august-wilson-the-fence-as-a-significant-symbol/.


NerdyBro. "“Fences” by August Wilson: The Fence as a Significant Symbol." June 7, 2022. https://nerdybro.com/fences-by-august-wilson-the-fence-as-a-significant-symbol/.