Death appears as a personified figure in Troy’s fanciful tales about wrestling with death and buying furniture from the devil. Troy’s typically stubborn sense of manhood and strength largely derives from his relationship with death. Having beaten all the obstacles thrown at him in his early years and survived, Troy props up his sense of self-worth and accomplishment through personifying death into a tangible form he’s proactively and successfully fended off. Further, by rendering death or the forces of destruction into a person (the grim reaper and the devil), Troy gives the unpredictability and mystery of death a concrete form, and thereby attributes a kind of reason and discernible motive to the process of death. Death, for Troy, is therefore a force that personally tries to antagonize and destroy him. This personification provides a reason for the suffering of Troy’s past beyond its basis in racism, and the severe poverty into which it landed him; it gives a higher purpose to what, in reality, boils down to a corrupt society and a childhood made difficult by abusive and unloving parents. “Mr. Death,” therefore, resembles the fence, since its invention helps Troy fence-off the harsher reality that’s largely cheated him in life.
“Mr. Death” Quotes in Fences
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.
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.