The second act begins the following morning. Cory is in the yard swinging a baseball bat, trying to imitate his father’s swing, but, Wilson writes—in a note in the script—that Cory’s swing is awkward and less sure than Troy’s. Rose enters the yard from the house and asks for Cory’s help with a cupboard, and Cory says that he refuses to quit the football team, despite what his father says.
Cory’s swinging of his father’s bat is a gesture which symbolizes his attempt to fill his father’s shoes—though he struggles, and isn’t sure in his swing. Whereas Troy exudes almost obnoxious confidence, Cory isn’t able to muster up such hubris, as evidenced by his awkward swing.
Rose replies that she’ll talk to Troy when he returns, explaining that he had to go to the police station to check on Gabe, who was arrested for disturbing the peace. Troy returns, with Bono, and says that he bailed Gabe out by paying fifty dollars. Troy tells Rose to go inside the house and get Cory, since he wants his help building the fence.
Rose continues to be a staunch ally of Cory’s, remaining committed to his future as a football player. The arrest of Gabe raises our suspicions since, though he’s a bit odd and aloof, Gabe is nevertheless peaceful and well-meaning.
Bono starts to help Troy with sawing wood for the fence, and Troy says that all the police wanted, in arresting Gabe, was money—that they’ve arrested him six or seven times now, and they “stick out their hands” whenever they see Troy coming.
Here, we see the real reason behind Gabe’s arrest—a racist scapegoating of a mentally-ill black man as a dangerous threat to the public in order to make a profit. It seems that this happens frequently, and that Troy always pays the price.
Bono agrees with Troy that all the police care about is money. Bono then criticizes Troy for using hard wood to build the fence (probably because he finds it difficult to cut), saying that all he needs is soft pine—but Troy insists that he knows what he’s doing, and that pine wood is used for inside purposes only. But Bono counters that a fence built with pine wood would last the rest of Troy’s lifetime. Troy, however, asks how Bono knows how long he’s going to live, and adds that he may just live forever.
Troy’s questioning of Bono—about how he could possibly know how long he’s going to live, since he might just live forever—is yet another instant of Troy’s fantasizing, and it’s clear that Troy is no longer in a place to speak the truth about the reality of his past. Further, Troy’s insistence on using hard wood can be read as a symbol for his unnecessarily tough and hardened nature, and mistreatment of Cory.
Bono then tells Troy he’s seen where he and Alberta “all done got tight.” Troy asks what Bono means, and Bono explains that he’s seen how Troy laughs and jokes with Alberta all the time (where they meet for their romantic encounters). But Troy insists that he laughs and jokes with all the women in his life—yet Bono says that he means a different kind of laughing and joking.
Here, Bono officially confronts Troy with the reality of his affair with Alberta, and (typical of Troy), despite facing the truth of his actions, Troy continues to believe he can live a lie, and persuade Bono that he’s not doing anything out of the ordinary with Alberta.
Cory then enters the yard from the house, and Troy tells him that Bono is complaining that the wood’s too hard to cut. Wanting to show off Cory’s strength, Troy tells Cory to show Bono “how it’s done” and cut some wood. Bono admires the sense of ease with which Cory works with the hard wood.
This is a very rare moment in the play—a moment where Troy actually expresses pride in his son, Cory, for doing something properly. It seems that Troy is only ever proud of his sons when they perform manual labor to his liking.
Frustrated with building the fence, Cory questions why Rose even wants it built in the first place. Supporting Rose, Bono replies that, while some people build fences to keep people out, some build them to keep people in, and that Rose just wants to hold on to her family because she loves them. But this irritates Troy, who says that he doesn’t need anyone to tell him that his wife loves him.
Knowing that Troy is having an affair with Alberta, Bono is trying to make comments that subliminally convince Troy he’s making a mistake by betraying Rose. Troy, however, can tell that Bono is fishing for something, and is probably irritated that he can no longer keep up his fantasy and/or ruse of fidelity.
Wanting a private moment with Bono, Troy tells Cory to go into the house to get a saw. Troy asks Bono what he meant by his comment about Rose wanting to hold on to her family, and Bono, believing Troy to be cheating on Rose, tries to appeal to Troy’s better judgment and love for Rose. Bono says he’s known her and Troy for nearly his whole life. He remembers when they met, and adds that a lot of women were interested in Troy at the time, but Bono knew that, when Troy picked Rose, he made the right decision—that he was a man of sense. Bono, inspired by Troy’s decision, decided to start following him, thinking that following Troy’s mindset might take him somewhere in life. Troy, Bono says, taught him a lot—to “take life as it comes along and keep putting one foot in front of the other.” Bono finishes by telling Troy that Rose is a good woman.
Here, we see the seeds of Bono’s desire to follow Troy—the seeds of his role as a follower, as August Wilson writes at the beginning of the play, in their relationship. Troy’s decision to commit himself to Rose inspired Bono, who deemed Troy’s commitment as an act of high sensibility and mature judgement. Still as equally committed to Troy as a friend many years later, Bono now feels the need to intervene in Troy’s misdeeds and steer him towards the path that most reflects the sensibility he witnessed in Troy as a younger man.
Seeming still agitated by Bono’s comment, Troy wonders what motive Bono has in saying all of this about Rose, but Bono denies having anything particular on his mind. Troy is still unsatisfied by this, however, and pushes Bono for an explanation, but Bono has nothing to add—he just insists that Rose loves Troy. Troy thinks Bono is trying to say that Rose is too good for him—that he doesn’t measure up because he’s seeing Alberta. Bono responds by saying he knows how important Rose is to Troy, explaining that he just doesn’t want to see him mess their relationship up.
Bono’s awkwardly obvious sauntering around the elephant in the room—that Troy is sleeping with Alberta—continues, as he refuses to cite Troy’s affair as the reason for his comments about Rose. Yet Troy finally names his misdeed, confessing to having an affair with Alberta, and tries to fault Bono for accusing Troy of being a lesser man for committing adultery. But Bono assuages Troy’s reactionary response, and says that all he cares about is the health of Troy and Rose’s relationship.
Troy says that he appreciates Bono’s sentiments, and claims that, while he didn’t go out looking for anything, and thinks that no woman compares with Rose, Alberta has nonetheless stuck onto him, and that he can’t shake her off.
Finally, the tension between Troy and Bono is resolved, and Troy fully acknowledges that he has gotten attached to Alberta—even though he seems to be honest when he says he never fully intended to.
Bono replies that Troy is ultimately the one responsible for his actions, but Troy explains that he’s not ducking any responsibility, claiming that, “as long as it sets right in my heart,” then he’s okay, and further, his heart is all he ever listens to. His heart, Troy says, will always tell him right from wrong, and that he won’t ever mistreat Rose, adding that he loves and respects her for all she’s added to his life.
Troy’s faith that his heart will never steer him wrong—that his visceral feelings about things are the ultimate guides for his moral judgement—testify to his narcissism, and the fact that he is ill-equipped to distinguish between reason and emotion, morality and his own fantasies.
While Bono doesn’t doubt Troy’s love and respect for Rose, he says he worries about what will happen when Rose finds out, since sooner or later it’s going to happen if he doesn’t drop Alberta and continues juggling both relationships. Troy replies that he’s been trying to figure out how to work it out, and Bono, while he doesn’t want to get caught up in Troy and Rose’s personal business, encourages Troy to “work it so it come out right.”
Bono continues trying to pinpoint the irrationality to Troy’s thinking, insisting that there’s no way he can keep up his high-wire act of juggling both relationships without Rose finding out, and that he had better drop Alberta if he wants to keep up his relationship with his wife.
Troy replies that he gets involved in Bono and Lucille’s business all the time and, confirming this, he asks Bono when he’s going to buy Lucille the refrigerator she’s been wanting. Bono replies that once Troy finishes building the fence for Rose, he’ll buy Lucille her refrigerator. Bono then leaves to get back to Lucille, saying that he wants to see Troy put the fence up by himself in order to save his money, since it will take Troy another six months to finish it without him.
The two friends ultimately leave on a friendly note, as Bono turns the gravity of their conversation into a not-so-serious betting game. The fact that Bono leaves to get home to Lucille—whom he usually leaves the Maxson household for—underscores his dedication to his wife (a dedication modeled, as we have learned, after how he views Troy’s relation to Rose) in opposition to Troy’s adultery.
Rose then enters the yard from the house, and asks Troy why the police arrested Gabe, and what’s going to happen to him. Troy tells her he was arrested for disturbing the peace, and that a judge set up a hearing for him in three weeks. Rose adds that she thinks it would be good for him to be put in the hospital, but Troy says Gabe should be free—that it wouldn’t be right for anyone to lock him up, since his life was ruined by fighting a pointless war.
Rose continues to harp on Troy about Gabe being institutionalized, but he refuses to heed her arguments. He still seems to believe he has some fundamental responsibility to Gabe, at least at this point in the play, both because of Gabe’s activities in the war and for the money he (inadvertently) provided Troy.
Rose then tells Troy to come inside for lunch, but he says he has something to tell her—he confesses that he’s going to be a father. Shocked, Rose cannot believe that Troy is telling her this, and—suddenly—Gabe enters the scene, with a rose in his hand. He offers Rose the flower, and she thanks him; he then asks Troy if he’s mad at him since “them bad mens come and put [him] away.” Troy denies being mad at Gabe, and tries to continue his conversation with Rose, but she says there’s nothing he can say to explain his actions.
Leading up to perhaps the most powerful moment of the entire play, just as Troy informs Rose of his adultery, the gravity of his declaration gets intersected by the ignorant whimsy of Gabe’s presence, who, unknowingly, offers Rose a timely dash of comfort with a rose. Troy and Rose’s heated moment is nerve-gratingly suspended by their momentary dialogue with Gabe.
Rose tells Gabe to go inside and get a piece of watermelon, and after he leaves, Rose begins questioning Troy. She wonders why, after all these years, Troy’s just now bringing this upon her—she could have expected this ten or fifteen years ago, she says, but not now. Troy says that age has nothing to do with it, and Rose starts to stand up for herself. She says she’s tried to be the best wife possible, and that she’s never wanted anything “half” (like Troy’s new baby) in her family, since her whole family growing up was “half,” and she finds it frustrating when she tries to talk with her brother and sisters about their parents. Troy tells Rose to stop making a fuss, insisting that she ought to know what’s going on, but she exclaims that she doesn’t want to know.
Beginning the most dramatic exchanges of the entire play, Rose confronts Troy’s confession face-to-face, and stands her own ground to the man who frequently talks down to and debases her, and who has now admitted to the greatest betrayal of her dedication. Rose is not oblivious to such philandering tendencies in Troy, claiming that she would not have been surprised to have heard such a confession earlier in their marriage, but she had faith that Troy matured.
Troy adds that he can’t make anything go away—that he’s already done the deed and he can’t wish it away—but Rose counters by saying that he doesn’t want it to go away. 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 adds that he ought to have stayed in her bed, where he belonged.
Rose not only insists that Troy can’t simply renounce his actions—that he can’t wish them away--but also that he likely doesn’t want them to go away. This is powerful: Rose sees through Troy’s lies and rhetoric. She knows Troy probably doesn’t feel much remorse, and that he has little regard for the life he’s built with Rose.
Troy insists that “we”—he and Rose—can get a handle on their dispute, but Rose asks where this “we” that Troy is bringing up was when he was sleeping with Alberta. Troy responds by saying that Alberta gives him a different idea about who he his—that Alberta lets him get away from the pressures and problems he feels in his own home. With Alberta, he says, he doesn’t have to worry about such mundane things as paying bills—he just gets to be “a part of myself that I ain’t never been.”
Here Troy’s narcissism explicitly rears its head again, when he speaks about how Alberta gives him a different sense of himself, a freedom of expression which he feels is hindered by his family at home. Instead of being bogged down with the everyday tasks of being a father and husband, with Alberta, he can let loose and be someone else.
Rose replies, wondering whether Troy intends to keep seeing her or not, and he says that he can’t give up the laughter and joy which Alberta helps him to feel. After Rose suggests that Troy leave her for Alberta, since she’s apparently a better woman than her, Troy tries to defuse her. He says that a man could not ask for a better wife than Rose, but that he locked himself into a pattern where, being so concerned with taking care of her, he forgot to take care of himself.
This narcissism which steers Troy away from his commitments to his family continues to show itself, as Troy says he can’t possibly give up his relationship with Alberta. Troy, however, tries to cover up his selfishness by insisting that he took so much care of Rose that he stopped taking care of himself.
After Rose proclaims that it was her job, as his wife, to take care of Troy—and that she’d tried to all her life—Troy says that he always tried all his life to be decent, and that he tried to be a good husband, the best he could. But also, he adds, one is born with “two strikes” before you arrive in the world, and one must guard this very closely—for you cannot afford another strike. Troy adds that, with everything lined up against you, you must “go out swinging.” He concludes that, when he left the penitentiary, nothing could make him strike-out anymore—that he was going to look after Rose and the boy they had.
After Rose firmly asserts that it was her duty to take care of Troy, and that she tried with all her energy to do so, Troy starts spouting more of his euphemisms about “striking out,” which suggests a fundamental divorce on his behalf from the gravity of Rose’s feelings. Content with explaining his actions in obscure metaphors about the necessity of living life to the fullest, Troy seems detached from Rose’s real pain.
Rose tells Troy he should have stayed in her bed, and Troy responds that, when he saw Alberta, “she firmed up my backbone.” Arguing that, after eighteen years, Rose should understand that he’d want to “steal second”—to have sex with Alberta—Rose shuts Troy down, exclaiming that he should have held onto her.
Troy’s insensitivity comes to a pinnacle here, when he claims that Rose should understand why he went for Alberta—but Rose won’t budge, rejecting Troy’s excuses by powerfully affirming that his duty as a husband was to hold onto her, and no other woman.
Troy responds by saying that he’d stood on first base for eighteen years with Rose, and, finally thought that, “well goddamn it . . . go on for it!” But Rose counters, saying that nothing they’re talking about has to do with baseball. Troy continues to argue with Rose, and insists that she’s not listening to him. But Rose maintains that she’s been standing with Troy for eighteen years and, further, she has a life of her own. She tells Troy that she has eighteen years of her own life—of her own dreams and hopes—and suggests to Troy that, though she’s had her own fantasies with other men, she’s never played-into them, always putting her responsibilities to her family first. She concludes that, ultimately, she planted herself inside of Troy to bloom, despite her most intimate needs. She says that, though she knew the soil of Troy’s world was rocky, she nonetheless gave everything to his world in order to love and support him.
Troy keeps deploying his odd, emotionally detached baseball metaphors, and finally Rose denounces them, saying that they have nothing to do with Troy’s betrayal of their relationship. She affirms her commitment to Troy and hard work and devotion as a wife once more—this is perhaps the most powerful moment of the play. Finally, after all this time of Troy’s excessively, undeservedly large presence in all of his relationships, Rose takes a stand against his daunting stature, and affirms that she has her own hopes and dreams, and her own needs to be fulfilled—but that she did her duty as a wife by putting her husband and family first.
Troy responds by telling Rose that she says he takes and never gives—and he grabs her, painfully, by the arm. Rose tells Troy that he’s hurting her, but he doesn’t care—he only says that she has falsely accused him of taking and not giving, concluding 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, Troy tells Cory that he’s “struck out” for the second time—and that he better not provoke him again.
Troy shows his brutality and abusive nature as he—threatened by Rose’s assertion of her independence—tries to quell the fact that she has the upper hand in their argument, though he postures his anger as being motivated by Rose’s inability to understand him. Cory boldly asserts himself against Troy, showing his love for his mother at the same time.