August Wilson

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Fences: Act 1: Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

The second scene begins the next morning; Rose is hanging clothes, and singing a song about Jesus protecting her: “Jesus, be a fence all around me every day.” Troy enters the scene, and Rose tells him how Ms. Pearl won a dollar on the local lottery the other day. Troy says that the lottery is a waste of money, saying that he’d be rich if he “had all the money niggers . . . throw away on numbers for one week.” Rose replies by saying that sometimes good things result from playing the lottery, and mentions a man named Pope who was able to buy himself a restaurant with his winnings. Troy tells Rose that Pope, a black man, didn’t want any people of color to enter his restaurant. He says he saw a white man order a bowl of stew there, claiming that Pope “picked all the meat out the pot for him.” He calls Pope a fool.
Troy’s condemnation of Rose’s decision to play the lottery is another instance of hypocrisy—whereas Troy thinks it’s perfectly fine that he dream about his life and tell tall tales, behaving in a completely irrational manner, he scolds Rose for engaging in behavior that, though perhaps financially risky, isn’t nearly as divorced from reality, and actually bears some small chance of success. Further, his criticism of Pope further emphasizes Troy’s commitment to racial justice—by picking out Pope as an example of a black person catering to white power, Troy demonstrates his unwillingness to let everyday acts of inequality pass him by.
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Troy then asks where Cory is, and Rose says he’s at football practice. This upsets Troy, since Cory hadn’t finished his chores before going to practice, but Rose says that Cory had to leave early, since his coach wanted to get in some extra practice. Troy accuses Cory of never working a “lick of work” in his life. As Troy and Rose bicker, Troy’s brother, Gabriel, comes by. Wilson writes a note in the script describing Gabriel: he’s seven years younger than Troy, and has a metal plate in his head—he was injured in WWII. As a result, Gabriel is delusional, and believes himself to be the Archangel Gabriel. He carries a basket of fruit and vegetables which he tries to sell.
Troy’s anger over Cory’s desire to play football continues to fester, and he unreasonably accuses his son of never working—of never having put any exerted effort into anything—in his life, all because Cory is pursuing a cause with which Troy disagrees. This speaks to the sensitivity of Troy’s temper. Gabriel’s entrance into the play will add a bit of whimsy (albeit tragic in its source) to counter the seriousness and drama of Troy’s world.
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Gabriel enters the scene singing a song about plums he has for sale. Not seeing any plums in Gabriel’s basket, Rose asks him where they are, and Gabriel says that he will have some tomorrow, since he put in a big order to have enough for “St. Peter and everybody.” Gabriel says that Troy is mad at him, thinking that his recent decision to move out and get his own place has upset his brother. Troy says he’s not mad at all, and Gabriel explains that the only reason he moved was to get out of Troy’s hair. When Rose asks Gabriel if he wants any breakfast, he asks for biscuits, recounting how he and St. Peter used to eat biscuits every morning before the gates of judgment were opened. Further, Gabriel says that St. Peter has Troy and Rose’s names in “the book.” He clarifies that, because he died and went to heaven, his own name isn’t in the book. Gabriel then leaves, singing a song about how people “better get ready for the judgment.”
Gabriel’s propensity for spinning fantasies offers a match for Troy’s tendency to tell tall tales—while Gabriel speaks about St. Peter, Troy speaks about the grim reaper or the devil. Further, while Gabriel has a neurological defect that explains his delusions, Troy doesn’t—this at least makes us consider that Troy’s fantasizing isn’t really all that different from Gabriel’s, and that Gabriel isn’t really as deluded as he might seem. Gabriel’s fixation on the day of judgment will grow to have profound significance in the play, as it becomes intimately connected with Troy’s eventual death.
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Rose re-enters the yard from the house, and implies to Troy that Gabriel should go back to the hospital. But Troy thinks it would be cruel to lock Gabriel up after all Gabriel went through during the war. He also feels guilty for assuming ownership of the three thousand dollars with which the army compensated Gabriel for his injury. Troy claims that the only reason he has a house is because of Gabriel’s compensation. Rose, however, says that Gabriel was in no condition to manage his money, and that Troy has taken great care of his brother—she therefore tells Troy that he shouldn’t feel guilty. Troy recognizes all of this, but says he’s just stating the facts: if Gabriel didn’t have a metal plate in his head, he wouldn’t have a house. The scene ends after Troy tells Rose that he’s heading to a bar to listen to the ball game, saying he’ll work on the fence when he gets back.
Troy’s guilt over using Gabriel’s money to pay for his house, and his empathy for Gabriel’s condition and right to live freely after his sacrifices in the war display a hint of compassion which Troy’s actions later in the play will arguably undermine. While Troy clearly rejects Rose’s proposal to institutionalize Gabriel now, and while he feels guilt over taking his money (now), he’ll later send Gabriel off to the hospital and take even more of his money.
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