Throughout the twentieth century, August Wilson developed today what is known as the Pittsburgh Cycle. This cycle captures the lifestyle of one African American during the twentieth century, as well as what struggles African American men and women faced daily. The cycle consists of ten plays, each corresponding with one decade in the twentieth century. Fences, the sixth play in the cycle, follows the 1950s, though it was published in 1987. The play follows the story of the Maxson family, who are African American, and the problems they face both emotionally and within society. Particularly, the story follows Troy Maxson, a middle-aged father, and the decisions he makes. In Fences, August Wilson shows that betrayal directly causes an inability to trust later in life, and, therefore, jeopardizes relationships with people a person most cares about.
Troy Maxson, throughout Fences, is the source of an inability to trust to those surrounding him. This includes his wife, Rose, his son, Cory, his brother, Gabriel, and his best friend, Bono. Although he betrays each of them in different ways, it can be said the sole reason Troy betrays these people is because of his parent’s influence. The absence of Troy’s mother from a young age directly affects Troy’s view of women as a whole (“Rejection”). This is because he is never exposed to women or an ideal relationship with one. Later on in life, this affects his relationship with his wife, Rose. As the play continues, Troy develops feelings for another women, Alberta, and ultimately gets her pregnant. Without seeing a healthy relationship between his parents, Troy is unable to identify an unhealthy relationship, and he is unable to seek out healthy ways in which he can address it instead of preceding with an affair.
The relationship between Troy and his father and Troy and his son, Cory, was inspired by the relationship August Wilson had with his father. Readers learn about Troy’s father through the stories Troy tells his sons Lyon and Cory. Although abusive, Troy tells Lyon and Cory that he respects his father and the responsibility he had to take on (Blumenthal). The importance of work is passed on from Troy’s father, to Troy, and in the play Troy passes on this importance to Cory. However, this importance is intensified as it is passed to Cory. “All he wanted was for you to learn how to walk so he could start you to working,” (Wilson 50). Troy, unbeknown to Cory, declines his scholarship offer, and secures a low class job for Cory instead of allowing Cory the chance to become an athlete. Because of this betrayal, the relationship between Troy and Cory is destroyed completely.
Troy betrays his son, Cory, by not allowing him the option to play college sports, and by setting up a career for Cory that he does not want. In the very beginning of the play, Troy makes it very clear in his stance that society will not let Cory. Troy believes that because of his race, Cory cannot have a successful career in sports, “…The white man ain’t gonna let you got nowhere with that football noway. You go on and get your book-learning so you can work yourself up in that A&P…” (Wilson 35). After weeks of Cory not showing up at work, Troy visits Cory’s boss, and tells him that Cory does not to work for the company, but instead wants to be an athlete. By doing this Troy offends the company owner, and ultimately jeopardizes the healthy relationship Cory had with his boss, and Cory’s employment.
Troy betrays Cory further by calling the recruiter interested in Cory, and declining the scholarship offer without Cory’s consent or knowledge. Due to limited finances of the Maxson family, this not only eliminates Cory’s ability to play college sports, but also eliminates the possibility of him going to college. Troy does this because he believes Cory will be discriminated against because of his skin color. “ The colored guy got to be twice as good before he get on the team,” (Wilson 34). Troy believes he experienced this discrimination in the early twentieth century when he tried out for a professional baseball team, and was rejected. However, Cory argues that this is not the case; that times are not the same as they were then. This is majorly due to the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement. By rejecting Cory’s recruitment before Cory even tries out, Troy jeopardizes the relationships Cory could have had with other college students and with teammates.
After these betrayals, Cory leaves his father’s house as he feels he can no longer live under Troy’s control. Throughout Cory’s childhood, readers learn that Troy was much like his father in how he treated Cory, but Cory does not confront him due to his controlling nature (Wolfe). After Troy rejects the recruitment offer; however, Cory confidently condemns his father for the way he has treated his sons and his wife, Rose. This is the last time for readers that Cory and Troy have a conversation, as the next time Cory appears in Troy’s house is for Troy’s funeral. When Cory returns, readers learn that he has joined the military in the hope of maintaining a permanent career. Cory originally refuses to attend his father’s funeral because of the betrayal and how it affected Cory’s life. He agrees to attend after Rose convinces him, asking Cory to not hold a grudge against his father any longer. “ Whatever is between you and your daddy… the time has come to put that aside,” (Wilson 96). Rose convinces Cory to come in telling him that by missing his father’s funeral, he is acting just like his father.
At the beginning of the play, Rose is pictured as the perfect wife: she takes care of the house, Cory, and ultimately allows Troy to control the household. It becomes obvious to readers that Troy’s feelings for Rose do not match hers for him, as he objectifies her more as the wife. This objectification is exemplified in the very beginning of the play,” Well, go in back in the house and let me and Bono finish what we was talking about. This is men talk,” (Wilson 6). As the play continues, readers watch Troy and Rose’s relationship decay, and Alberta step in. Troy proceeds to have an affair with Alberta despite Bono’s warning. Once Troy tells Rose that he has had an affair, and that Alberta is indeed pregnant with his child, Rose’s feelings for Troy change. Rose loses all ability to trust Troy, and to trust the male species as a whole. Because of Troy’s betrayal, Rose is never able to have a healthy relationship with another man.
After Alberta passes during childbirth, Troy brings home his daughter, Raynell, and with some convincing, Rose agrees to resume the mother position. However, Rose continues to not trust Troy, and sees him only as the father figure of Raynell, and not as her husband. “From right now… this child got a mother. But you a womanless man,” (Wilson 79). This affect falls under a small part of a psychological term called mental divorce, which involves one of the partners ending the intimacy and emotional aspect of marriage, but not the physical aspect of it in getting an annulment or getting an approval from a divorce court (Goldsmith). Even in being a father to Raynell, Troy is often absent from home, and readers learn from Rose that he has not been an active participant in Raynell’s raising. By the end of the play, Rose is more independence in the choices that she makes as well as in the absence of Troy’s control. With Troy’s betrayal Rose lost her husband as well as the inability to trust any other man in her life, but she was able to maintain a healthy relationship with Raynell, despite Troy’s betrayal. Rose was also able to maintain the close group of friends both her and Troy had, which includes Bono and his wife Lucille.
Troy and Bono originally meet in jail, after Troy attempts to steal to provide for his family. The play opens on a scene with Troy and Bono drinking on a Friday night, as they do every night. It is understood by readers that their relationship has maintained a steady growth from the time they were in jail to the present. Both Troy and Bono work for the same company side by side. Bono as the play continues is the witness to the growing affair between Troy and Alberta,” I see where you and that Tallahassee gal… that Alberta… I see where you all done got tight,” (Wilson 61). Bono warns Troy about getting involved with Alberta, and even goes as far to admit to him how much he has admired Troy for his taste in a wife. This is because Bono witnessed many girls trying to get Troy’s attention when he was known for being an athlete.
Troy loses Bono’s trust and respect after he has the affair with Alberta, and hurting Rose. By having the affair, Troy forces friends; for example, Bono and his wife Lucille, to choose a side between him and Rose. Being that Bono originally warned Troy of getting involved with Alberta, he finds it easier to side with Rose. Also, Bono feels disappointment, which has a similar feeling to betrayal (Stosny). Bono finds it difficult to trust Troy after Troy breaks his promise to him, and after watching Troy hurt Rose immensely. This transition from a strong friendship to acquaintances is especially easy in that Troy is promoted, and does not work side by side with Bono. “Since you got your promotion I can’t keep up with you. Used to see you everyday. Now I don’t even know what route you working,” (Wilson 82). Right before Troy’s death he has a conversation with Bono regarding a deal they made years back, and while Bono is respectful of Troy, there is hesitation in trusting him.
Gabriel is the only sibling Troy has still kept in contact with through the years, though it is mentioned that he had many more siblings. Readers learn that Gabriel is a World War II veteran, and that he has a metal plate in his head due to an injury he received during the war. Because of this injury, Gabriel receives a weekly disability check, which Troy uses to buy a house for him and his family. After Gabriel moves out, Troy no longer receives the money, so Troy signs a paper admitting Gabriel to a mental hospital,”… They went over to miss Pearl’s and got Gabe today. She said you told them to go ahead and lock him up,” (Wilson 74). Troy betrays Gabriel in sending him to a mental hospital, and jeopardizes all relationships Gabriel can have with the outside world. This worsens Gabriel’s condition because he is not able to comprehend why his brother would send him away (Goldsmith). After Troy’s death, Gabriel is admitted so that he may attend the funeral, but readers do not come in contact with him again before then.
The town surrounding the Maxson family, with the new admittance of Gabriel into the mental hospital, learns that Troy is the one that admitted him. Rose is the first to discover this news in the paper,” She ain’t had to tell me. I read it on the papers,” (Wilson 74). With further research, the town discovers that Troy used Gabriel’s money to buy his family’s house, and they become angry at Troy. This anger is expressed in the local newspaper. Troy’s reputation throughout the town is jeopardized, and many of the relationships he had were strained because of his betrayal toward his brother.
Relationships with those a person cares about can directly be jeopardized by betrayal. This idea is evident in August Wilson’s play Fences through Troy Maxson’s betrayal of his son, wife, best friend, and brother. Each of these characters lives alters once they lose an ability to trust Troy. Their lives change in the relationships they are able to have, as well as their ability to trust others in the future. Each of their lives also changes in the opportunities they are able to have or the responsibilities they have. In the last act of the play, Cory, Rose, Bono, and Gabriel all gather together to celebrate Troy’s life in a positive way, though the know their lives would be much different had they not been betrayed by someone the cared so much about.