Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Jealous Father: An Essay on the Father/Son Theme as Expressed in August Wilson's Short Story "Fences"

      August Wilson’s Fences presents a multitude of conflicts. It presents internal conflict in Troy Maxson, in dealing with what he has and has not become and with his actions on a day to day basis. It presents conflicts between friends as Bono continually confronts Troy in an effort to get him to do the right thing. It presents conflicts between spouses, as Rose is faced with Troy’s adultery and his new, motherless child. The biggest conflict, however, is that between Troy and his youngest son, Cory. A cursory glance at the relationship between Troy and Cory could suggest a father’s required actions to provide that his son pursues something stable within the context of the ‘American Dream’, thus projecting a sense of honorability, but a closer look shows that Troy is projecting his disappointment in his own failures onto his son.
Troy Maxson is presented as an individual whose whole worldview is based on  being successful and responsible. He viewed responsibility as going to work, making money and paying bills. He didn’t bother himself too much with emotional relationships, saying to Cory that it doesn’t matter if someone likes you. All that matters is that they give you what they owe you, which is interesting for Troy to say at all, let alone to Cory. Forgetting the fact that Troy did not give Rose what he owed her when he had an affair and a child by another woman, it seems like a copout for Troy to suggest that he gave Cory what was owed to him by giving him food and clothes and a place to sleep. In that respect, Troy is giving Cory what is necessary to exist and survive. But when you have a talented, hardworking youth and all he needs is your signature and you don’t give it to him, you are not giving to him what you owe him.
It really seems like this stems from jealousy. One wonders if Troy’s mindset isn’t, “Why should you be successful when I wasn’t able to be?” Troy tries to suggest that his lack of success in baseball was due to his race, thus justifying keeping his son from getting involved in sports, even when they promise to be his path toward a higher education. But as Rose points out, his inability to get into the major leagues had nothing to do with his race, but with his age, he was simply too old. Because of his late start, a start that came from playing in prison, Troy appears jealous of the fact that Cory has an opportunity to get a start at his sport of choice at such a young age, and tie work and a higher education into it.
Troy tells Cory that he needs to go back and get his job at the store, that playing football is fruitless and that if he wants to be successful, he needs to work hard at the store, instead of playing football. He holds Cory back, even as he fights for his own advancement in the work place. As Troy tells Cory that he can not do something because of his race, Troy is in fact making advances in his career, and the general consensus is that he is making those advances in spite of his race.
In every father/son relationship it seems that the father attempts to dictate to his son what his goals and dreams and aspirations in life should be. In Troy’s case, the case of an absent father, it seems that the youth will gravitate not toward finding oneself and taking risks in that respect, but they will instead gravitate towards comfort and stability. When they realize that they are not happy in these situations where they are comfortable and stable, then they begin to internalize and project that lack of happiness onto others. In the case of the masculine, all - American male, they do this by having affairs and squandering the dreams of their sons.
In Cory’s case, Troy dictated that he needed to have a dream of stability. That he needed to be able to work and have a house and have a family, that he needed to accept the limitations his race placed upon him, that he needed to stop dreaming about playing football and he needed to go back and ask for a job he did not want. In Troy’s mind it was not a matter of what Cory wanted, it was a matter of his responsibility and what was right. Which is completely projectionist and not at all how Troy lives his life, as he pursued his baseball dream to its furthest reaches, and excused his affair saying that it felt right in his heart.
And what this does to Cory is leave him feeling no lose for his dad. He says he has no intention of going to his fathers funeral. It seems great symbolism that Cory would return at the end a member of the Armed Forces. This shifts him from being a happy, energetic, potential all - American football legend, to being a cold and calculated cog in a machine, as his father was as a trash collector and as his grandfather was as an indentured servant.
The Father/Son relationships in Fences is sad and simple. Troy ran from his father at a young age, he struck out and did what he ‘had to do to survive’ before ultimately going to jail and settling for living a life of unsatisfying comfort. Any semblance of a dream he had, he lost to his age and he punished his son for it, just as his abusive father may have been punishing him with physical abuse for all of his short comings as an indentured servant. The relationship in this play between a father and his son, between Troy and Cory, is a matter of pride. Troy was too proud to submit to the white man at his place of work and simply ride the back of the truck as a garbage collector, he was too proud to submit to his monogamous marriage and not have an affair, he was too proud to admit to his best friend that he was having an affair, and ultimately he was too proud to let his son play football, to pursue his dream, to become his own person.

"Those that dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the day to find that all was vanity, but the dreamers of the day, are dangerous men, for they may act out their dreams and make them real."

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