Fences

Fences Act 1: Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The fourth scene takes place two weeks after the third, on another Friday, when 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. From within the house Rose calls for Cory, who is standing in the doorway on the porch, telling him not to leave. Cory hangs up and tells Rose he needs to go to his team’s game, but Rose insists that he clean his room first, so Troy won’t see it when he gets home. With a certain confidence, Cory continues to leave, telling Rose he’ll clean his room when he gets back.
Cory displays a sense of drive and autonomy that seems distinctly confident and uniquely mature, even if it’s a bit disrespectful of Rose’s kind requests that he clean his room. Still, Cory’s determination to get to the football game on time—regardless if this means postponing cleaning his bedroom—demonstrates that he is, on some fundamental level, committed to his team and to the sport: a commitment which suggests a kind of maturity itself.
Themes
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
After Cory leaves, Rose goes back into the house, and Troy and Bono enter the yard. Troy is carrying a bottle of alcohol, and they’re talking about Mr. Rand. Bono says he couldn’t believe the look on Rand’s face, earlier that day, when he told Troy something (that he’d been hired as a truck driver).
Once again, Bono and Troy engage in their weekly ritual of drink (total drunkenness, for Troy) and conversation (dominated by Troy). The success of Troy’s complaint about the lack of black truck drivers shows Troy’s bravery and dedication to social justice, despite his other flaws.
Themes
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Troy claims that Rand thought the office where he filed his complaint would simply fire Troy, based on Rand’s expression as he delivered him the good news. Troy calls out for Rose several times, and when she enters the scene she asks Troy what the result of his complaint was. Troy dismisses her question, telling her that she’s supposed to come to him when he calls, but she firmly replies that she’s not a dog. Her remark reminds him of a dog he once had, named “Blue,” and he starts singing a song about him which his father made up. Rose tells Troy that no one wants to hear that song, but he continues, and eventually announces the news about his new position, which pleases Rose.
Troy’s comment about Rand—that he thought Rand anticipated firing Troy—speaks to the willingness of Troy to lay his livelihood on the line for the right cause, to risk his job for his higher principles: principles which he actually doesn’t see as “higher,” but rather as integral to his everyday experience. Further, Troy’s continued debasement of Rose—this time treating her like a dog—shows just how deep and constant is his refusal to acknowledge her as an equal participant in their relationship.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Lyons enters the scene, and Troy is surprised to see him, since he thought Lyons had been jailed after reading that one of the clubs he frequents was raided for gambling. Lyons defends himself, saying that he doesn’t gamble, and that he only attends that club to play music with his band. Bono then lets Lyons know about his father’s new job, adding that all Troy will have to do is sit and read the newspaper. Lyons says his father’s illiteracy will get in the way of his job, if that’s the case—but Bono says there’s a bigger problem: Troy can’t drive, and doesn’t have a license.
Troy’s fundamental distrust of Lyons is revealed here even more than it was previously. Upon hearing about the raiding of a club Lyons plays at, Troy automatically assumes that his son was somehow involved in the crime. This speaks to Troy’s association of Lyons’ lifestyle with debauchery and illegality, while Lyons only claims to be trying to act on his passions—on his love for music.
Themes
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
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Lyons then reaches into his pocket, saying “Look here, Pop,” and Troy thinks he’s going to ask to borrow more money. But Lyons takes out ten dollars, intending to keep his promise from the first scene and pay his father back. Troy downplays Lyons’s sincerity, telling him to just keep the money for the next time he wants to borrow some. Rose argues with Troy, telling him to take the money, and Lyons eventually hands it to her.
Troy’s distrust of Lyons continues, as he assumes that Lyons is going to ask for more money—that he doesn’t intend to keep his promise, which he made in the first scene, to pay his father back. Further, Troy’s refusal to accept Lyons’ payment suggests that he wants to keep his son in a kind of limbo, where he can’t get the gratification of keeping his promise—paying Troy back.
Themes
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Gabriel then comes by, singing his usual song about preparing for Judgment Day. He gives Rose a flower—a rose—and says he’s been chasing hellhounds. Lyons commends him, saying that someone has to chase them, and Gabe (Gabriel) says that, even though the devil is strong, he has his trusty trumpet ready for the judgment time. When Lyons asks him if he’s waiting for the Battle of Armageddon, Gabe replies that it’s not going to be much of a battle when God starts using his “Judgment sword.”
Gabe’s delusional obsession with Judgment Day reemerges here, and Lyons actually seems to play into his uncle’s fantasies, perhaps out of sympathy for his condition, whereas Troy and Rose seem to always avoid acknowledging Gabe’s comments about spirituality and the afterlife. This perhaps speaks to the larger imagination and consequent empathy of Lyons.
Themes
Mortality Theme Icon
As Lyons goes to leave, Gabe says Troy is mad at him, and Lyons asks Troy why. Rose explains that, because Gabe moved out of Troy’s house to have his own place (paying rent to Miss Pearl), he thinks Troy is angry.
Gabe seems fixated on this problem—of worrying that Troy is mad at him—since he keeps repeating it. But Troy and Rose keep playing into it, explaining that Troy isn’t mad—perhaps in an attempt to assuage what they view as Gabe’s perpetual, irreversible madness.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
After Troy and Rose bicker about why Gabe 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 out that Cory hasn’t been working down at the A&P, as they agreed—Cory’s been lying. Lyons, trying to get Troy to empathize with Cory, says that Cory’s only trying to fill out his dad’s shoes—but Troy doesn’t care, and thinks that, since Cory has reached the point where he wants to start disobeying him, it’s time for Cory to move on and become his own man.
Troy’s continued refusal to empathize with Cory’s passion for football—to see in his son a genuine aspiration for the sport, an aspiration informed by a world of race relations which greatly differs from Troy’s growing up—surfaces here yet again. Troy sees Cory’s dedication to football as a fundamental act against his authority as a father, and not as a rightful expression of Cory’s individuality—Troy thinks Cory’s assertion of his own desires fundamentally goes against the father-son bond.
Themes
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Bono then talks about his own father, saying how he never knew him, since his dad was always moving around, “searching for the New Land,” going from one woman to the next. Troy chimes in, and says sometimes he wishes he never knew his father, since he didn’t really care about his kids, only wanting them to learn to walk so that they could help work on his farm. Lyons responds, saying that Troy’s father should have just left and moved on, but Troy says he couldn’t because of his eleven kids. With a bit of pride and a change of mood, Troy adds that his father felt a responsibility for his children even though he mistreated them, and, if he hadn’t felt that responsibility, he could have just walked away.
We get the sense that there’s been a cycle of bad fathers repeating generation after generation, and we’re simply witnessing the effects of this cycle in the parenting style of someone like Troy. Though Troy’s father was difficult to deal with, Troy says he was nonetheless a caring person who worked very hard to provide for all eleven of his children—and perhaps we can say the same thing of Troy. Though Troy is often cruel to Cory, he nonetheless works a very grueling job day-in and day-out to provide for his son; perhaps, then, caught up in the cycle of toughened and harsh fatherhood, Troy is just following in his father’s footsteps.
Themes
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Bono adds that a lot of fathers back in his and Troy’s childhood used to just leave their families behind, and says that they’d get the “walking blues” from traveling on foot so much from place to place.
Bono’s comment about the walking blues underscores the harsh realities felt by those brave black men who chose to emigrate North from the sharecropping South (like Troy) seeking a better future.
Themes
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Troy then starts to talk about his past with a new level of detail. He says that his father never had the walking blues, since he stayed with his family—but, he adds, his father could be “evil,” and that was why his mother left. One night, Troy’s mother sneaked out of the house after his father had gone to sleep, and never came back—even though she told Troy she’d return to take him with her.
Troy’s tale about being abandoned is not merely another one of his tall tales; Troy, in a very rare circumstance, is telling what appears to be the whole truth of his past, even though it’s a very painful memory. (Perhaps Troy is inspired by the alcohol he’s drinking.)
Themes
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Troy then tells the story of the day he left home (at the age of fourteen). One day, when his father sent him out to plow the fields of his farm, Troy, instead of obeying his father, tied up their plowing mule (“Greyboy”) and went to see a local girl he was attracted to. Troy and the girl ended up settling by a nearby creek, and started having sex. Greyboy, however, had gotten loose and wandered back home, and so Troy’s dad went looking for his son. Finding Troy with the thirteen-year-old girl, Troy’s father started whipping him with straps off Greyboy’s harness. Troy then ran to get away, only to see that his father wasn’t mad because he hadn’t done any farm work, but because he wanted the little girl for himself.
Troy’s spree of seeming truth-telling continues, and this story about the mule and the little girl gives us a greater insight into the violent and base character of his father. The fact that Troy’s father wasn’t mad at his son for shirking his duty at the fields, but for taking an incredibly young, prospective suitor away from him, speaks to his father’s intense aggression and lack of any stable sense of conscience or moral judgment—we can therefore empathize with the difficulty of Troy’s youth.
Themes
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Seeing his father rape the girl, Troy says that “right there is where I become a man,” and he started whipping his father with the reins that were used on him. The girl ran off, and Troy says his father was so angry that he looked like the devil. All Troy remembers after that is waking up lying by the creek, with his dog Blue licking his face—Troy says his face was so swollen that he thought he’d gone blind. The only thing he knew to do, he concludes, was to leave his father’s house.
The extreme violence and sheer disregard for the health and safety of his own son (not to mention the girl) is shocking, and shows the bitterly distorted and cold character of Troy’s father. Yet it also might give us a bit of sympathy for Troy—compared to the ogre of his own dad, Troy seems like a model father; thought trapped in a cycle of mediocre fatherhood, perhaps Troy believes himself to be doing the best he can in steering Cory down the right path to adulthood.
Themes
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Gabriel re-enters the yard with a sandwich Rose made him, and Troy says that he doesn’t know what happened to his father, just that he hopes he’s dead and found some peace. He says he lost touch with every sibling of his except Gabriel. Lyons, hearing this story for the first time, is surprised by how young Troy was when he left home.
The tragedy of Troy’s decision to leave home comes full circle: it meant the desertion of nearly his entire family, and a radical independence divorced from the life he had grown to know. While it meant leaving his abusive father, it also meant years of loneliness and hardship.
Themes
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Troy then explains that he walked two-hundred miles from his home to Mobile, but Lyons doesn’t believe him—Bono chimes in, and adds that walking was the only way to get around in those days, in 1918. Troy says that, once he got to Mobile, he realized it was impossible to find a job and a place to live, and that blacks were forced to live beneath bridges on riverbanks in makeshift shacks of sticks and tarpaper.
The fact that Lyons doesn’t believe his father when he talks about his two-hundred mile trip he made on-foot to Mobile immediately tells us that Troy has never revealed this personal history to his thirty-four-year-old son. It’s as if Troy has been holding all of this inside for his whole life, allowing it to fester, and telling tell tales to ward off the harsh reality of his actual past.
Themes
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Troy says he started stealing food to survive, then money, and that, after one thing led to another, he met Lyons’ mom (different than Rose). When Lyons was born, Troy had to start stealing three times as much—he says that, when he tried to rob a man one day, the man shot him in the chest, but as he pulled the trigger, Troy jumped at him with his knife, killing him. Troy explains that this got him fifteen years in prison, where he met Bono and learned how to play baseball.
The full extent of Troy’s tragic past continues to be revealed, and here we can see how the effects of racism at the economic level propelled him to commit crime just in order to survive—to feed himself and his family. We can see how a structurally racist society propelled him into a future of imprisonment.
Themes
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
After Troy’s story, Lyons asks him to come see his performance later that evening, but Troy says he’s too old to hang out in the clubs Lyons frequents. Lyons leaves soon after, and Troy asks Rose if supper is ready, implying—in front of Bono—that she should hurry, since they’re overdue to have sex. Embarrassed, Rose objects to Troy’s crudeness, but Troy says he’s known “this nigger,” Bono, for a very long time, and tells Bono he loves him. Bono reciprocates Troy’s affection, and leaves to get home to his wife, Lucille.
Troy continues to be crude to Rose in front of Bono, and Troy’s justification—that Bono is like a member of the family—seems inadequate. Troy has consistently refused to heed his wife’s wish that he not debase her in front of their friends. Further, Troy’s disinterest in his son’s career as a musician suggests that he’s unjustified in criticizing Lyons so harshly, when he seems to know nothing about what he actually does and how well he does it.
Themes
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon