This turned out to be my professor's favorite of my papers. That may be because it was so limited in scope-- he told us which play to write about and even told us that he wanted us to look at the relationship between Troy Maxson and his son Cory. I have to admit, it was my -least- favorite paper to write. But I got an A on it, so I'm pleased with that (;
20 October 2011
The Antagonizing Hero
August Wilson wrote his play “Fences” representing the black experience in America in the late 1950’s, just before the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. The play focuses on the life and family of Troy Maxson, a man too old to pursue his own dreams but whose life paves the way for his son to follow after him. Analyzing the dramatic plot structure through exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution, one can see that the playwright presents Troy as a protagonist and antihero and Cory as the antagonist and a hero.
To begin with, the majority of the first act focuses on exposition, immersing the audience in Troy’s character and troubles. The opening scene between Troy and his best friend Bono, on a Friday night after work, teaches the audience that both Bono and Troy are men born in the south, with absentee fathers, who moved north looking for better lives. They are products of the same society and similar circumstances, but there are hints at Troy’s future infidelity and difficulties within his family. The audience also learns that Troy was good at baseball in his youth but was never allowed to play professionally; now that blacks are playing professional sports, he is too old. Troy’s character flaws and inability to let go of the past lead directly to the conflict with his son Cory.
Next, through the rising action, as the conflict between Troy and Cory unfolds, the audience is well aware of Troy’s character, how he thinks, and how he responds. Cory wants to pursue his innate talent in football, but his father makes him quit the team and return to his job at the A&P. Troy is stuck in the past, where black men like him are not allowed to excel in sports, where “the white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway” (I.III) and wishes a better life than his for his son. When Cory finds out that Troy sabotaged his football plans and confronts Troy about it, he is at strike one. Shortly after Cory confesses to his mother that he did not quit the team, Troy confesses his affair to his wife Rose, announcing that the other woman is pregnant. In the midst of their argument, Cory enters and sees his father grabbing his mother. When she says, “Troy. You’re hurting me,” (II.II) Cory grabs his father and takes a swing at him, reaching strike two. As we approach the climax, six months have passed, and the tension is palpable between Rose and Troy over his infidelity and his treatment of his son, Cory. Before these issues are addressed, the phone rings revealing that Troy’s mistress died in child birth, but the daughter is alive and well. Troy confronts the specter of death, promising to “build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See?”, (II.II) in an effort to protect his family. That evening, Troy brings his daughter home to be raised by his wife. Therefore, the unresolved issues between Troy, Rose and Cory set the stage for the climax.
The scene begins two months after Rose accepts the baby, shortly after Cory graduates from high school. The tension between father and son is obvious from their first interaction, where no words are spoken, but stage directions are given, “Cory wanders over to the tree, picks up the bat, and assumes a batting stance. He studies an imaginary pitcher and swings. Dissatisfied with the result, he tries again. Troy enters. They eye each other for a beat. Cory puts the bat down and exits the yard.” (II.IV) When Cory enters the yard a second time; Troy is sitting in the middle of the stairs. Their confrontation is about the respect that Troy expects from his son, and the resentment Cory feels for his father “being in his way” (II.IV), both literally as a block into the house, and figuratively in the pursuit of his dreams of being a football player. Troy advances in anger on his son and Cory grabs the bat in self defense. When given the opportunity to use it to kill Troy, he is unable to do so and Troy overpowers him, taking the bat away. Like Cory, he stops himself from using it, and tells Cory to, “Go on and get away from around my house.” (II.IV) and Cory reaches “Strike three” and is expelled from the home.
Finally, the falling action and resolution happen in 1965, seven years later, after Troy’s death. Cory returns home for the first time and is now a Corporal in the Marines. He initially refuses to attend his father’s funeral, because he still feels stifled by his father’s “shadow” (II.V), but Rose points out that such disrespect does not make him a man and that, although Troy may not have gone about it well, he “wanted you to be everything he wasn’t…and at the same time he tried to make you into everything that he was” (II.V) meaning that he wanted Cory to have all of his good characteristics, but he also wanted him to have better opportunities that he was given. Cory is resolved with the specter of his father when he decides to attend his father’s funeral, there by laying the shadow to rest.
In conclusion, Troy Maxson personifies the black experience in America in the late 1950’s, as a man prevented from pursuing his own dreams by racial inequality. His life and actions pave the way for his son to follow after him. Through exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution, one can see that the playwright presents Troy as a protagonist and antihero: a main character stuck in the past and bound by his character defects; and Cory as the antagonist and a hero: always in opposition to his father and the goals that Troy set for him. Troy is clearly a flawed character of his time, but without him, the antagonizing hero of Cory would have no foundation from which to build.
Hacker, Diana and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.
Wilson, August. “Fences.” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry,
Drama, and Writing. Ed. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, 3rd ed. New York: Longman,
2010. 1049-1109. Print.