Fences

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Cory Maxson Character Analysis

The son of Troy and Rose, Cory embodies a hope for the future unmet by the pessimism of his father. When Cory seeks love and compassion in his relationship with Troy, it’s met with a hardened toughness, as his father believes that his relationship with his son is born out of sheer duty—not love. Raised in an era where the racism Troy experienced in his youth has, to a rather small yet significant extent, faded—and where opportunities for black lives have begun to open—Cory has an optimism about his future. Troy, however, views Cory’s career aspirations as idealistic and detached from the realities of a racist society where, for instance, he believes the white-dominated sports world will not support his son’s ambition to become a football player. August Wilson therefore casts Cory as an opposing force to Troy’s views and the values for which Troy stands, and this clash drives the story at the core of Fences. Corey also undergoes his own development over the course of the play, coming of age when he finally stands up to his father and leaves home to join the Marines, but maturing even further when at the end of the play he rethinks his plan to refuse to go to his father’s funeral. In other words, Cory must learn to stand up to his father, but also to respect the struggle his father faced that made him who he was.

Cory Maxson Quotes in Fences

The Fences quotes below are all either spoken by Cory Maxson or refer to Cory Maxson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Plume edition of Fences published in 1986.
Act 1: Scene 1 Quotes

I told that boy about that football stuff. The white man ain’t gonna let him get nowhere with that football. I told him when he first come to me with it. Now you come telling me he done went and got more tied up in it. He ought to go and get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Cory Maxson, Rose Maxson , Jim Bono
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Troy speaks these lines to Rose in the first scene of the first act, when he and Bono are engaging in one of their Friday night payday get-togethers. Rose enters their conversation for a bit, and informs Troy that Cory’s been recruited by a college football team.

Troy’s disdain for a career in sports stems from his experience playing baseball when he was younger. Despite being a very talented athlete, his hopes of playing professionally were cut short due to racial discrimination—black players simply weren’t given a chance in the major leagues, where skin color was favored over objective talent. Troy’s opinion about what counts as a viable future for Cory, therefore, is shaped by his own past, by a different era in history than the one in which Cory grew up, where—though race relations are still overwhelmingly far from equal and just—there are more opportunities for young black men than there were in Troy’s time. Troy, however, doesn’t think this, and refuses to see it. He stays stuck to his ‘outdated’ view of society, insisting that pursuing sports will only bring Cory disappointment and an unstable lifestyle. To prevent this, Troy advocates—however stubbornly—that Cory pursue a standard trade that will earn him what he imagines would be a steadier, more dependable living. Thus, the conflict between Troy and Cory over football can be explained as a war between two drastically different views of history, society, and race relations.

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Act 1: Scene 3 Quotes

If they got a white fellow sitting on the bench . . . you can bet your last dollar he can’t play. The colored guy got to be twice as good before he get on the team. That’s why I don’t want you to get all tied up in them sports. Man on the team and what it get him? They got colored on the team and don’t use them. Same as not having them. All them teams the same.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Cory Maxson
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Troy speaks these lines to Cory, in the third scene of the first act, after Cory tells him that a college football recruiter is going to pay Troy a visit to get his signature, which would grant Cory permission to join the college team.

Troy severely disapproves of Cory’s ambition to play football, believing that the world of sports hasn’t changed since when he played baseball (with the hopes of becoming professional). Since Troy’s hopes were cut short due to racial discrimination, and since he believe the status of race relations in sports hasn’t evolved at all, he thinks that Cory’s sports dreams are foolishly impractical, idealistic, and not rooted in social reality. It would make more sense, in Troy’s mind, for Cory to go out and practice a standard trade, like auto-mechanics.

Troy’s comment about benched white players not being able to play well follows from his premises that black players are always benched while whites are favored on the field, and that, in order for a black player to get time on the field, they have to be twice as good. If a white player is benched, therefore, they must be exceptionally unskilled.

I don’t care where he coming from. The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway. You go on and get your book-learning so you can work yourself up in that A&P or learn how to fix cars or build houses or something, get you a trade. That way you have something can’t nobody take away from you. You go on and learn how to put your hands to some good use. Besides hauling people’s garbage.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Cory Maxson
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote—spoken by Troy to Cory after Troy mentions that he’s heard from Rose about Cory’s recruitment to play college football—demonstrates that, perhaps on some fundamental level, Troy truly does intend only good things for his son, even though he often fails to show it. Troy, certainly not silent on the matter of white supremacy and racial discrimination, is firmly convinced—based on his experiences of discrimination when he tried to play professional baseball—that the world of sports will not be hospitable for his son, a young black male. And, while it’s easy to pass Troy off as a pigheaded man who only wanted to make life for his son as difficult as his own has been, and to prevent Cory from excelling in ways he was never able to, it seems, here at least, that Troy genuinely thinks he’s doing Cory a favor by standing in the way of his career in sports.

This speaks to the fact that August Wilson doesn’t seem bent on portraying Troy as, in-and-of-himself, a bad person—as a bad father whose parenting decisions aren’t informed by any valid experiences. Rather, Wilson seems concerned with conveying Troy as an unfortunate byproduct of historical forces which have molded him to think about the world the way he does, and which were ultimately out of his control. Wilson is therefore able to show how the racism experienced by previous generations of black fathers informs the way they raise their children—it informs a father’s vision of the society in which he’ll raise his child, regardless if race relations have evolved and are now different than the view afforded by his outdated perspective. Thus racism from the past gets recycled, indirectly onto new generations, who must grapple with the dichotomy between their own vision of contemporary society and the less current vision of their parents.

Like you? Who the hell say I got to like you? What law is there say I got to like you? Wanna stand up in my face and ask a damn fool-ass question like that. Talking about liking somebody. . . . I go out of here every morning . . . bust my butt . . . putting up with them crackers every day . . . cause I like you? You about the biggest fool I ever saw. . . . It’s my job. It’s my responsibility! . . . A man got to take care of his family. You live in my house . . . sleep you in my bedclothes . . . fill you belly up with my food . . . cause you my son. . . . Not ‘cause I like you! Cause it’s my duty to take care of you! I owe a responsibility to you! . . . I ain’t got to like you. Mr. Rand don’t give me my money come payday cause he likes me. He gives me cause he owes me.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Cory Maxson
Page Number: 37-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Troy speaks these lines to Cory in the third scene of the first act, after Cory asks Troy why he’s never liked him as a son.

Troy’s harshness and fundamental lack of any loving qualities as a father come to a pinnacle here. Troy insists that his duty as a father is simply a contractual one—that he’s responsible out of sheer contractual obligation, like a job, to provide for Cory, hence why Troy compares their relationship to the one he shares with his boss, Mr. Rand. For Troy, his duty to provide for his son isn’t born out of love, admiration, or any higher moral, emotional, or psychological forces. Fatherhood is not a duty or labor of love: it’s just a basic labor which, as if decreed by some law, he’s required to do. Therefore, insofar as it’s only Troy’s obligation to meet certain requirements as a provider, he needn’t go beyond them—he needn’t do such things as actually treat his son with kindness, or show him compassion.

Troy’s appeal to duty as the fundamental familial bond, as opposed to anything psychological (like love), shows how he views his relationship to his family in terms of the minimum amount of participation that’s required of him. This narcissistic view is what allows him to go off, have an affair with Alberta, and not question his conscience.

Act 2: Scene 1 Quotes

Some people build fences to keep people out . . . and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you.

Related Characters: Jim Bono (speaker), Troy Maxson, Cory Maxson
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Bono speaks these lines to Troy and Cory in the first scene of the second act, while they’re all working on the fence. Cory has just asked what the point of building the fence is in the first place.

Fully aware that Troy is having an affair with Alberta, Bono wants to evoke, with this statement, a realization in Troy about the gravity of what he’s doing to Rose—that he’s betraying his bond with an incredibly loving, good, and strong woman. As Troy’s best friend, Bono surely knows that Troy’s mind is prone to fantasy—Troy has believed that he can lie to Bono about being monogamous and make him believe it, when Bono has, multiple times throughout the play, told Troy that he’s explicitly seen him interacting with Alberta in an adulterous way. By bypassing Troy’s imaginary world of defense mechanisms against the truth of his actions, and getting Troy to realize he’s forgotten about and pushed aside the love of his incredible wife, he can perhaps trigger in Troy a remembrance of when he was deeply in love with Rose—he can help Troy empathize with Rose in a way that will make him be ashamed of his actions with Alberta. This seems to be Bono’s goal here.

I’m gonna tell you what your mistake was. See . . . you swung at the ball and didn’t hit it. That’s strike one. See, you in the batter’s box now. You swung and you missed. That’s strike one. Don’t you strike out.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Cory Maxson
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Troy speaks this to Cory in the first scene of the second act. Troy has just confessed to Rose about his affair with Alberta and the baby they’re going to have; after they argue for a while, Troy grabs Rose by the arm, and Rose tells Troy that he’s hurting her. Cory then enters the scene, and pushes Troy off from Rose—this is when Troy warns Cory that he’s had “strike one.” Troy uses this metaphor about “strikes,” a term borrowed from baseball, in order to describe whenever Cory has severely insulted him.

The fact that Troy uses this metaphor in such a serious manner—in a moment of real anger and confrontation—suggests that he associates more than a bit of literary flair with its usage. “Striking out” has a real, visceral meaning for Troy, who conceives of his relationship with Cory as actually being structured like a baseball player’s turn at the batter’s box. This demonstrates just how fundamentally Troy’s experience with baseball has shaped his imagination—and we already know that he has difficulty distinguishing his imagination from reality. Troy’s repeated use of this metaphor to name events where Cory has crossed the line in his role as a son therefore shows how Troy’s psyche is caught up in such imagery, much like Gabriel is caught up in images of judgement day and hellhounds. This similarity between the two brothers suggests that Troy’s imagination and obsession with certain images and figures—like Mr. Death—isn’t all that different from his mentally ill brother. In a way, therefore, we can read Troy’s mind as a victim of trauma—the hardships and racism faced in his past—much like Gabriel’s brain suffers from a traumatic injury.

Act 2: Scene 4 Quotes

I’m coming in and everybody’s going out…

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Cory Maxson, Rose Maxson , Lyons Maxson, Raynell
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Troy speaks this line in the fourth scene of the second act. Lyons has just stopped by the Maxson house to drop off some money for Troy, who’s not yet there, and Rose tells him to put it on the table. As he leaves, Cory enters the yard; they talk briefly (Lyons apologizes for missing Cory’s high school graduation), and Lyons exits. Then, Troy enters the yard; as he approaches the steps to the house, Rose exits the house with Raynell, carrying a cake, and Troy says this line.

Though short and succinct, this is perhaps one of the most significant quotes of the entire play. It not only signals that Troy is starting to realize the division, the rift opening between him and his family, but also hints at the failure of the fence to keep the Maxson family together as one solid unit. While one goal of the fence—at least Rose’s intended goal—was to protect her family and enclose them in a space of their own, this ambition has utterly failed in the face of Troy’s betrayal of Rose. The fence speaks more to division and separation than unity or togetherness; it serves as a fault line with which to reference not some divide between the family and the world, but a divisive crack that runs between the family and itself.

Act 2: Scene 5 Quotes

The whole time I was growing up . . . living in his house . . . Papa was like a shadow that followed you everywhere. It weighed on you and sunk into your flesh. It would wrap around you and lay there until you couldn’t tell which one was you anymore. That shadow digging in your flesh. Trying to crawl in. Trying to live through you. Everywhere I looked, Troy Maxson was staring back at me . . . I’m just saying I’ve got to find a way to get rid of the shadow, Mama.

Related Characters: Cory Maxson (speaker), Troy Maxson, Rose Maxson
Page Number: 96-7
Explanation and Analysis:

Cory speaks these lines to Rose in the last scene of the play, at the Maxson household before Troy’s funeral. Cory’s just arrived: he hasn’t been home presumably in years, having joined the marines. He’s just told Rose that he doesn’t intend to attend Troy’s funeral, and she argues that it would be wrong to miss his father’s funeral.

Cory’s description of Troy as a shadow that, upon wrapping around him, would mix itself up with him to the extent that he couldn’t distinguish himself from it, portrays Troy as an invasive force of malice that distorted Cory’s sense of self. Trying to steer clear and avoid his father as a child, Cory, it seems, ultimately found it impossible to escape Troy, who had the ability to infiltrate Cory’s psyche with a non-corporeal weight, which bogged his personality down to the extent that its edges couldn’t be discerned—Cory couldn’t tell where his own personality started or ended.

This inability to distinguish between the inside and outside of Cory’s persona hints at the function of the fence at the core of the play. As a divider that creates a separation in space between an interior and an exterior, the fence defined the Maxson household as a discernible group against the outside world. Ironically, even though Cory was instrumental in building the fence, it seems like it took him a very long time—until after he left home—to build such a fence in his mind, and begin to be able to tell himself apart from the shadow of his father.

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Cory Maxson Character Timeline in Fences

The timeline below shows where the character Cory Maxson appears in Fences. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1: Scene 1
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Rose says that Cory has been recruited by a college football team, but Troy says that he doesn’t want... (full context)
Act 1: Scene 2
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Troy then asks where Cory is, and Rose says he’s at football practice. This upsets Troy, since Cory hadn’t finished... (full context)
Act 1: Scene 3
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...down the clothes she was hanging up at the beginning of the second scene, and Cory enters the yard with his football equipment. Rose tells Cory that his father was angry... (full context)
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Angry that Cory wasn’t around earlier to help him build the fence, Troy yells at him, summoning him... (full context)
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
After Cory returns to cutting the boards, he mentions that the Pirates won the baseball game that... (full context)
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Troy then says that Rose informed him about Cory’s recruitment. Cory explains that a recruiter will be coming by to speak with Troy and... (full context)
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Alarmed by his father’s harshness, Cory asks Troy why he never liked him as a son. Troy demeans this question, saying... (full context)
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Rose enters the yard, having been listening to Troy and Cory’s conversation from behind the screen door on the porch. She asks Troy why he won’t... (full context)
Act 1: Scene 4
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...Troy and Bono engage in their payday ritual of drink and conversation. It begins as Cory gets a call from a teammate, who asks him if he can borrow some cleats.... (full context)
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
After Cory leaves, Rose goes back into the house, and Troy and Bono enter the yard. Troy... (full context)
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...left to live on his own, Rose tells Troy that she wants him to sign Cory’s football papers when the recruiter visits him next week. Troy, however, says that he found... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 1
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
The second act begins the following morning. Cory is in the yard swinging a baseball bat, trying to imitate his father’s swing, but,... (full context)
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Cory then enters the yard from the house, and Troy tells him that Bono is complaining... (full context)
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Frustrated with building the fence, Cory questions why Rose even wants it built in the first place. Supporting Rose, Bono replies... (full context)
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Wanting a private moment with Bono, Troy tells Cory to go into the house to get a saw. Troy asks Bono what he meant... (full context)
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...Maybe, she says, Troy wants to wish all their eighteen years together and their boy, Cory, away—but he can’t do that, she says, because her life is invested in him. She... (full context)
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...that he’s given her everything he’s got. Before they get into an even nastier fight, Cory enters the scene and wrestles with his father, ultimately gaining the upper hand. In response,... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 2
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...that the newspaper is lying. Rose accuses Troy of treating Gabe just like he treated Cory—he betrayed them both. Whereas Troy wouldn’t sign Cory’s recruitment papers, he was willing to sign... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 4
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
As Lyons heads to leave, Cory enters the scene, and Lyons apologizes for not making Cory’s graduation, explaining that he had... (full context)
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Troy enters the yard, and he and Cory eye one another; Cory puts the bat down, and exits the yard. As Troy goes... (full context)
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Cory then enters the yard, and, once again, he and Troy eye each other. Cory tries... (full context)
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Troy then tells Cory that he’s out of line—that, because he’s grown up, he suddenly thinks his father doesn’t... (full context)
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Troy tells Cory to leave Rose out of their argument, and advances towards his son in rage. Cory... (full context)
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Cory says that he isn’t going anywhere, and swings the bat at Troy, who backs across... (full context)
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Cory exits, and Troy assumes a batting stance, and starts to taunt Mr. Death. Troy shouts... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 5
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Cory enters the yard, dressed in a Marine corporal’s uniform, and August Wilson describes his posture... (full context)
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Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
As Rose and Cory embrace, Bono and Lyons enter the yard—they’re both impressed by Cory’s accomplishments in the military.... (full context)
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...help at the church where Troy’s funeral will be held, and Rose re-introduces Raynell to Cory. Rose then tells Raynell to get ready for the funeral, and they both exit into... (full context)
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Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
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Mortality Theme Icon
Cory asks if Lyons is still playing music, and Lyons says that he and some of... (full context)
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Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Raynell re-enters the yard from the house, and says “hi” to Cory, asking him if he used to sleep in her room. Cory says yes—it used to... (full context)
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Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Cory responds by saying that, growing up, Troy was a shadow that “weighed on you and... (full context)
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Mortality Theme Icon
Rose continues, saying that the shadow Cory mentioned was just Cory growing into himself—that it had nothing to do with Troy. She... (full context)
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
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...on the phone. Rose exits into the house, and Raynell once again says “hi” to Cory. She asks Cory if he knew Blue—Troy’s dog—and they both begin singing the song Troy’s... (full context)
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Gabriel then enters the scene, and Rose, Cory, and Lyons are delighted to see him. Gabriel announces that “it’s time to tell St.... (full context)