Fences

Troy Maxson Character Analysis

The husband of Rose, and father to Cory and Lyons, Troy is the central character of Fences. Shaped by the effects racism has had on his life—by the struggles it created in his youth and the career ambitions that it thwarted, including his desire to be a baseball player—Troy lives in the shadow of what could, and what should, have been. The play can largely be described as charting how Troy’s actions, as they’re informed by his past, affect those around him: how his own shattered sense of hope ripples into and distorts the aspirations and dreams of those around him—how the racism of his world growing-up continues to express itself through Troy’s actions, indirectly shaping those of a new generation. As a result of Troy’s experiences, he has become a man who at once espouses and insists on rigid practicality in order to protect himself and his family from the world, even as he indulges (or can’t stop himself from indulging) in a kind of wild impracticality of his own as a way to escape or redress the unfairness he perceives as having thwarted his own life. This inner contrast – which to those around him can feel like hypocrisy – is evident in a variety of ways. For instance, Troy can’t see anything practical, or therefore worthwhile, in the professions (music and baseball, respectively) to which his sons Lyons and Cory each aspire. But at the same time, Troy’s affair with Alberta suggests that he’s perfectly willing to engage in something not grounded in practicality, but rather in pure pleasure divorced from the needs of his family. Similarly, Troy’s willingness to protest the unfair treatment of blacks in his workplace (they’re only hired to carry garbage, while whites are exclusively hired to drive the trucks), embodies a progressive view on the possibilities of race which mirrors the possibilities that his sons see for the future of race relations. But, in Cory’s particular case, he sees such possibilities as unrealistic (i.e., his belief that Cory will never succeed in professional football because black players aren’t given a chance). Troy’s inner conflict seems also to play out in the way he puts a fantastical spin on the reality of his past, such as telling fanciful tales about encounters he’s had with a personified form (the grim reaper or the devil) of death. These fantasies of Troy’s suggest that his past failures and suffering have pushed his mind, perhaps as a kind of involuntary self-defense, to favor imagination and fictional constructions over any consistent, constant consideration of his real past. Yet, while August Wilson seems concerned with highlighting this conflict and hypocrisy at the core of Troy’s character, he’s perhaps not condemning Troy personally. Rather, Wilson shows how Troy is the product of historical, racist forces beyond his control; he shows how Troy is a vehicle for these forces, for their reproduction and reinforcement on a new generation.

Troy Maxson Quotes in Fences

The Fences quotes below are all either spoken by Troy Maxson or refer to Troy 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Plume edition of Fences published in 1986.
Act 1: Scene 1 Quotes

I ain’t worried about them firing me. They gonna fire me cause I asked a question? That’s all I did. I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, “Why?” Why you got the white mens driving and the colored lifting? Told him, “what’s the matter, don’t I count? You think only white fellows got sense enough to drive a truck. That ain’t no paper job! Hell, anybody can drive a truck. How come you got all whites driving and the colored lifting?” He told me “take it to the union.” Well, hell, that’s what I done! Now they wanna come up with this pack of lies.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Jim Bono
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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I wrestled with Death for three days and three nights and I’m standing here to tell you about it. . . . At the end of the third night we done weakened each other to where we can’t hardly move. Death stood up, throwed on his robe . . . had him a white robe with a hood on it. He throwed on that robe and went off to look for his sickle. Say, “I’ll be back.” Just like that. . . . I told him, say, “yeah, but . . . you gonna have to find me!” I wasn’t no fool. I wasn’t going looking for him. Death aint nothing to play with. And I know he’s gonna get me. . . . But . . . as long as I keep up my vigilance . . . he’s gonna have to fight to get me. I ain’t going easy.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Rose Maxson, Jim Bono
Related Symbols: “Mr. Death”
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
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You ain’t seen no devil. I done told you that man ain’t had nothing to do with the devil. Anything you can’t understand, you want to call it the devil.

Related Characters: Rose Maxson (speaker), Troy Maxson, Lyons Maxson, Jim Bono
Related Symbols: “Mr. Death”
Page Number: 14
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You and me is two different people, Pop. . . . I know I got to eat. But I got to live too. I need something that gonna help me to get out of the bed in the morning. Make me feel like I belong in the world. I don’t bother nobody. I just stay with my music cause that’s the only way I can find to live in the world. Otherwise there ain’t no telling what I might do. Now I don’t come criticizing you and how you live. I just come by to ask you for ten dollars. I don’t wanna hear all that about how I live.

Related Characters: Lyons Maxson (speaker), Troy Maxson
Page Number: 18
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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
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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
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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
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I don’t want him to be like me! I want him to move as far away from my life as he can get. You the only decent thing that ever happened to me. I wish him that. But I don’t wish him a thing else from my life. I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Rose Maxson
Page Number: 39
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Act 1: Scene 4 Quotes

How he gonna leave with eleven kids? And where he gonna go? He ain’t knew how to do nothing but farm. No, he was trapped and I think he knew it. But I’ll say this for him . . . he felt a responsibility toward us. Maybe he ain’t treated us the way I felt he should have . . . but without that responsibility he could have walked off and left us . . . made his own way.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Lyons Maxson
Page Number: 51
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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
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Rose, I done tried all my life to live decent . . . to live a clean . . . hard . . . useful life. I tried to be a good husband to you. In every way I knew how. Maybe I come into the world backwards, I don’t know. But . . . you born with two strikes on you before you come to the plate. You got to guard it closely . . . always looking for the curve-ball on the inside corner. You can’t afford to let none get past you. You can’t afford a call strike.

Related Characters: Troy Maxson (speaker), Rose Maxson
Page Number: 69
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We’re not talking about baseball! We’re talking about you going off to lay in bed with another woman . . . and then bring it home to me. That’s what we’re talking about. We ain’t talking about no baseball.

Related Characters: Rose Maxson (speaker), Troy Maxson, Alberta
Page Number: 70
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I been standing with you! I been right here with you, Troy. I got a life too. I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot with you. Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me? Don’t you think it ever crossed my mind to want to know other men? That I wanted to lay up somewhere and forget about my responsibilities? That I wanted someone to make me laugh so I could feel good? . . . I gave everything I had to try and erase the doubt that you wasn’t the finest man in the world. . . . You always talking about what you give . . . and what you don’t have to give. But you take too. You take . . . and don’t even know nobody’s giving!

Related Characters: Rose Maxson (speaker), Troy Maxson
Page Number: 70
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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
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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:
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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:
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Troy Maxson Character Timeline in Fences

The timeline below shows where the character Troy Maxson appears in Fences. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1: Scene 1
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...to the first scene informs us that the play takes place in 1957, and that Troy is fifty-three years old. Having a conversation, he and Bono enter the yard outside Troy’s... (full context)
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The play begins by Bono accusing Troy of lying. Troy is telling a story about a black man—Troy actually refers to him... (full context)
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Troy and Bono’s conversation continues, and Bono says that the same man who was carrying the... (full context)
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The conversation then shifts to discussing a woman named Alberta. Bono asks Troy how he thinks one of their fellow co-workers is “making out” with Alberta, meaning if... (full context)
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...crudely discuss Alberta’s body, Rose enters from inside the house, walking onto the porch where Troy and Bono are seated. August Wilson writes a note in the script describing Rose as... (full context)
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Rose asks the two men what they’re talking about, and Troy responds by saying that Rose shouldn’t concern herself, since it’s “men talk.” After embarrassing Rose... (full context)
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Rose says that Cory has been recruited by a college football team, but Troy says that he doesn’t want his son getting involved in football, since “the white man... (full context)
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Troy then explains that, when he played baseball, his batting average was significantly higher than Seikirk,... (full context)
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Rose tells Troy that he’s going to drink himself to death, and Troy responds by saying “death ain’t... (full context)
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...writes a note in the script describing him as thirty-four years old, a son by Troy’s previous marriage, and wearing trendy clothing. Wilson adds that, though Lyons thinks of himself as... (full context)
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...that he found himself in the neighborhood and thought he’d stop by for a moment. Troy, however, says that Lyons just came by because he knew it was his father’s payday.... (full context)
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Troy then claims to have seen the devil, saying that the devil sold him furniture when... (full context)
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Lyons asks Troy again for ten dollars, and Troy hassles him, asking him why he isn’t working. Lyons... (full context)
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The first scene ends with Troy telling Bono that he loves Rose “so much it hurts,” and that he “done run... (full context)
Act 1: Scene 2
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...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... (full context)
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Troy then asks where Cory is, and Rose says he’s at football practice. This upsets Troy,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Act 1: Scene 3
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...he hadn’t finished his chores before practice, and that he wouldn’t be around to help Troy with building the fence. Rose then tells Cory to start on his chores, and he... (full context)
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Angry that Cory wasn’t around earlier to help him build the fence, Troy yells at him, summoning him to the yard. He reprimands Cory for not finishing his... (full context)
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...that the Pirates won the baseball game that day, making five wins in a row. Troy, however, says that he’s not thinking about the Pirates, since they have an all-white team.... (full context)
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Troy then says that Rose informed him about Cory’s recruitment. Cory explains that a recruiter will... (full context)
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Alarmed by his father’s harshness, Cory asks Troy why he never liked him as a son. Troy demeans this question, saying that there’s... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Act 1: Scene 4
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Troy claims that Rand thought the office where he filed his complaint would simply fire Troy,... (full context)
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Lyons enters the scene, and Troy is surprised to see him, since he thought Lyons had been jailed after reading that... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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As Lyons goes to leave, Gabe says Troy is mad at him, and Lyons asks Troy why. Rose explains that, because Gabe moved... (full context)
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After Troy and Rose bicker about why Gabe left to live on his own, Rose tells Troy... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Troy then starts to talk about his past with a new level of detail. He says... (full context)
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Troy then tells the story of the day he left home (at the age of fourteen).... (full context)
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Seeing his father rape the girl, Troy says that “right there is where I become a man,” and he started whipping his... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Troy then explains that he walked two-hundred miles from his home to Mobile, but Lyons doesn’t... (full context)
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Troy says he started stealing food to survive, then money, and that, after one thing led... (full context)
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After Troy’s story, Lyons asks him to come see his performance later that evening, but Troy says... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 1
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...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,... (full context)
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Rose replies that she’ll talk to Troy when he returns, explaining that he had to go to the police station to check... (full context)
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Bono starts to help Troy with sawing wood for the fence, and Troy says that all the police wanted, in... (full context)
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Bono agrees with Troy that all the police care about is money. Bono then criticizes Troy for using hard... (full context)
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Bono then tells Troy he’s seen where he and Alberta “all done got tight.” Troy asks what Bono means,... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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Wanting a private moment with Bono, Troy tells Cory to go into the house to get a saw. Troy asks Bono what... (full context)
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Seeming still agitated by Bono’s comment, Troy wonders what motive Bono has in saying all of this about Rose, but Bono denies... (full context)
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Troy says that he appreciates Bono’s sentiments, and claims that, while he didn’t go out looking... (full context)
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Bono replies that Troy is ultimately the one responsible for his actions, but Troy explains that he’s not ducking... (full context)
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While Bono doesn’t doubt Troy’s love and respect for Rose, he says he worries about what will happen when Rose... (full context)
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Troy replies that he gets involved in Bono and Lucille’s business all the time and, confirming... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Rose then tells Troy to come inside for lunch, but he says he has something to tell her—he confesses... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Troy adds that he can’t make anything go away—that he’s already done the deed and he... (full context)
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Troy insists that “we”—he and Rose—can get a handle on their dispute, but Rose asks where... (full context)
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Rose replies, wondering whether Troy intends to keep seeing her or not, and he says that he can’t give up... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Rose tells Troy he should have stayed in her bed, and Troy responds that, when he saw Alberta,... (full context)
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Troy responds by saying that he’d stood on first base for eighteen years with Rose, and,... (full context)
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Troy responds by telling Rose that she says he takes and never gives—and he grabs her,... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 2
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The second scene occurs six months later; Troy enters the yard from the house and, before he can leave, Rose appears from inside,... (full context)
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Rose tells Troy that she can’t keep living like this—alone, distanced from her husband, always wondering where he... (full context)
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Troy, still resisting any genuine communication with Rose, says that he’s on his way to see... (full context)
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The telephone inside Troy and Rose’s home rings, and Rose goes to answer it. She returns, and we learn... (full context)
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Troy responds by saying that he’s not pushing anyone away, and asks Rose to give him... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 3
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...later, in the evening. Rose is inside the house, listening to the ball game, awaiting Troy. When Troy enters the yard, he’s carrying his newborn child (Raynell), and calls to Rose.... (full context)
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Troy then sits down on the porch with his infant daughter (Raynell), and says that he... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 4
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...much of a struggle it is to find work. Lyons tells Cory to talk to Troy, saying that he’ll be able to get Cory a job. Lyons leaves, and Cory goes... (full context)
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Troy enters the yard, and he and Cory eye one another; Cory puts the bat down,... (full context)
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Troy then reaches into his pocket and grabs some money to give Rose, and she tells... (full context)
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As Troy sings the song about his old dog Blue, Bono enters the yard. Bono says he... (full context)
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Troy says that driving the garbage truck isn’t the same as hauling garbage, since you have... (full context)
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Cory then enters the yard, and, once again, he and Troy eye each other. Cory tries to go into the house, but Troy is blocking the... (full context)
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Troy then tells Cory that he’s out of line—that, because he’s grown up, he suddenly thinks... (full context)
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Troy tells Cory to leave Rose out of their argument, and advances towards his son in... (full context)
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Cory says that he isn’t going anywhere, and swings the bat at Troy, who backs across the yard. Cory misses, but then swings again—and Troy says that, if... (full context)
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Cory exits, and Troy assumes a batting stance, and starts to taunt Mr. Death. Troy shouts at Death, egging... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 5
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Cory responds by saying that, growing up, Troy was a shadow that “weighed on you and sunk into your flesh”—a shadow that tried... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)