The last scene of the play occurs in 1965, eight years after its beginning. Troy has died, and it’s the morning of his funeral. Rose, Bono, and Raynell (now seven years old) are gathered at the Maxson household. Raynell is in the yard, next to a garden which she’s planted; Rose calls her to get dressed for the funeral, and Raynell wonders why her garden hasn’t grown. Rose responds by saying that it isn’t going to grow overnight.
August Wilson’s decision to not make Troy’s death an actual, real-time moment of the play has the effect of making Troy’s death seem almost trivial or superfluous—like an after-effect of something larger and more important. Further, with the sudden, off-stage vanishing of Troy and the now on-stage gathering of all his family, the distance between Troy and his family/friends before his death is amplified.
Cory enters the yard, dressed in a Marine corporal’s uniform, and August Wilson describes his posture as being distinctly militant, adding that Cory speaks with a “clipped sternness.” Cory says “hi” to Raynell—Raynell doesn’t remember him—and asks if her mother is home. Rose comes to the door to see Cory, and is shocked to see him—we get the sense that it’s been several years since they were united.
The marks of his father’s anger and stubbornness seem to be written across Cory’s evolved, matured self—he’s become the disciplined and no-nonsense man which his father never was.
As Rose and Cory embrace, Bono and Lyons enter the yard—they’re both impressed by Cory’s accomplishments in the military. Rose says she’s very glad that Cory made it to the funeral, and adds that Gabe is still in the hospital, and she’s not sure if he’s going to be allowed to attend Troy’s funeral or not.
Cory’s new stature and military garb must impress Bono and Lyons, who knew the uncertain and unstable atmosphere of his youth—despite all of that, Cory has made something of himself (although not what he originally wanted to), whereas Lyons has seemingly failed.
Bono leaves to go 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 the house. Lyons mentions that he’s heard Cory is thinking about getting married, and Cory affirms this, saying he thinks he’s “found the right one.” Lyons adds that he and Bonnie have been split up for four years, and that he always knew Cory was going to make something of himself. Cory says he’s been with the army for six years, and Lyons says he was sentenced to three years in jail for cashing other people’s checks.
The juxtaposition of Lyons’s failure to make something of his future and Cory’s success is further amplified, as we get new information: Lyons no longer struggles just to launch a failed music career, but has followed in the footsteps of his father and turned to crime in order to make ends meet, despite being in circumstances where other opportunities are available (unlike in his father’s time). Lyons has refused still, to this day, to get any job outside of music.
Cory asks if Lyons is still playing music, and Lyons says that he and some of his inmates have formed a band, and that they’re going to try and stay together when they get out—he says that music still helps him to get out of bed in the morning. Lyons then exits to eat the breakfast which Rose has prepared, asking, briefly, if Cory is doing alright—Cory nods, and August Wilson writes that they “share a moment of silent grief.”
Lyons’ continued commitment to music raises the question if, over the years, he’s developed a more authentic appreciation for it—or whether he’s still caught up in the image of being a musician. Further, it’s remarkable that the two do not discuss their father’s death whatsoever—they grieve in silence, and whether it’s Troy’s death which they grieve is debatable: they might just be grieving their own childhoods.
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 be his room—and Rose comes to the door, telling Raynell to put on her good shoes for the funeral. Raynell exits into the house, and Rose tells Cory that Troy died swinging his baseball bat. Then, with great hesitation—mirroring his father’s reluctance to tell Rose that he’d had an affair with Alberta—Cory tells Rose that he’s not going to Troy’s funeral. Rose, however, won’t accept this, and insists that Cory attend. Even if he and his father didn’t always see eye to eye, she says, Cory needs to put it aside. Rose adds that disrespecting Troy won’t make Cory a man.
The fact that Troy died while swinging a baseball bat ironically harks back to his “striking out” anecdote, his career as a baseball player which was cut short, and the fact that he would swing his bat at “Mr. Death” when addressing “him.” Further, Cory’s unwillingness to go to Troy’s funeral speaks to his desire to wash himself of his father, of the stains Troy made on Cory’s life—and this suggests that Cory feels he hasn’t fully escaped the grips of his father. Rose’s insistence that Cory attend speaks to her opinion that there’s something permanent about familial bonds.
Cory responds by saying that, growing up, Troy was a shadow that “weighed on you and sunk into your flesh”—a shadow that tried to crawl into him and live through him. He says that, everywhere he looked, Troy was looking back at him, and that he just wants to find a way to get rid of his father’s shadow. Rose replies: “You just like him. You got him in you good.”
Rose’s comment that Cory is just like Troy, and that he has Troy deeply embedded within his personality, seems to suggest that she thinks Cory’s attempts to outrun the imprint Troy left on his life is futile—that he should accept Troy for who he was, and acknowledge his massive influence.
Rose continues, saying that the shadow Cory mentioned was just Cory growing into himself—that it had nothing to do with Troy. She adds that Troy wanted Cory to be everything he wasn’t, but, at the same time, Troy tried to make Cory into everything he was. She says that she doesn’t know whether Troy was right or wrong, but that he at least meant to do more good than harm.
Rose pivots somewhat around her previous point, though, clarifying that the reason Cory’s attempts to outrun Troy are futile is that what Cory imagines Troy to be is really Cory himself—not actually Troy in reality. Her advocacy for Troy—that Troy truly wanted more good than harm—suggests that, with time and age, she’s grown to have empathy for Troy’s actions.
Rose then goes into a long description of her own relationship with Troy. She says that she married him in order to fill the emptiness in her life—she thought his energy would fill her to the point of bursting. However, once they were married, she didn’t make enough room for herself—Troy, with his hefty presence, took up all of her life and her home. All Rose did was sacrifice herself for Troy, “give up little pieces” of her life, and watch Troy grow from it. She adds that, by the time Raynell was born, she and Troy had lost touch with each other. The phone rings, and Rose concludes that she took Raynell under her wing in an attempt to relive part of her life—to have one of the babies she always wanted but never had.
Rose’s beautiful and heartfelt description of why she married Troy, and the problems which unfolded in their marriage, demonstrate that she’s come to a decisive conclusion about why she and Troy lost touch with each other. Rose, in retrospect, regrets sacrificing herself so much for the marriage—for not voicing her own opinions, desires, and values, and for constantly catering to Troy’s demanding and overbearing nature. Never met halfway by Troy, Rose eventually became detached from her own sense of self.
Raynell enters the yard, and tells Rose that the reverend is 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 father created about him. Whenever Raynell can’t remember the lyrics, Cory fills them in for her. Rose then comes to the door, and announces that they’re going to be ready to leave for the funeral soon.
When Cory fills in the words which Raynell doesn’t remember, it’s as if he’s playing the role of a guardian and teacher to Raynell in a way that’s unique to himself, untouched by Troy’s brooding authority. Though they sing Troy’s favorite song, and though he lives on through their singing, Cory takes the song over: by filling-in the words, he actively permits its oral history to last, while taking over his father’s place.
Gabriel then enters the scene, and Rose, Cory, and Lyons are delighted to see him. Gabriel announces that “it’s time to tell St. Peter to open the gates.” He then asks Troy’s spirit if he’s ready, and pulls out his trusty trumpet of judgment. Gabriel braces himself, ready to produce a glorious sound with his instrument, but no sound comes from it. August Wilson describes “a weight of impossible description” befalling Gabriel—“a trauma that a sane and normal mind would be unable to withstand”—a painful realization of some kind, likely that Troy failed to enter heaven. Gabriel then begins to dance hysterically, and when Lyons attempts to embrace him, he pushes him away. Ending the play, upon finishing his dance, Gabriel announces: “That’s the way that go!”
Gabriel’s last, rather apathetic expression is a testament to his devotion to the order of God as being the prime executor of judgment—of whether Troy does or does not deserve to enter heaven. While Gabriel seems initially shocked at the moment when, we can infer, he witnesses Troy’s sentencing to hell, he ultimately shrugs it off in a strange and gleeful but simultaneously serious sense of rapture—that’s just the way, he concludes, God and judgment work. Though Gabriel appears as an insane man, this ability of his to think about judgment from an unbiased perspective suggests he isn’t entirely without wisdom.