August Wilson

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Themes and Colors
Blackness and Race Relations Theme Icon
Practicality, Idealism, and Race Theme Icon
Manhood and Fathers Theme Icon
Family, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Fences, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Blackness and Race Relations

Set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, Fences explores the experience of one black family living in the era of segregation and a burgeoning black rights movement, exposing, at the heart of its characters’ psychology, a dynamic between the inner world of a black community and the expanse of white power around it.

The fence which Troy gradually builds in front of his house serves as a symbol of segregation, as well as the general psychological…

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Practicality, Idealism, and Race

Fences explores the different views some of its characters have about what’s feasible, achievable, and practical or life-sustaining with regard to career ambitions and future goals. Troy disapproves of the livelihoods to which his sons aspire, considering them to be idealistic dreams compared to what he views as more practical trades. Troy’s disapproval, especially in Cory’s case, is largely informed by his own experience growing up black. Cory’s youth—his experience growing up in a…

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Manhood and Fathers

The play largely revolves around the turbulent relationship between Troy and his children—particularly his relationship with Cory. Cory’s desire to assert his own manhood and determine his own future clashes with the authority Troy feels as a father. Further, Cory’s ambitions go against everything Troy thinks will be good and healthy for his son’s prosperity.

Cory evolves in the play from cowering in fear of his father to ultimately severing his ties with him…

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Family, Duty, and Betrayal

Fences is a portrayal of family life—of how its characters view their roles as individual family members, and how they each define their commitment or duty to the family; it also explores how betrayal can break the familial bond.

Troy refuses to tell Cory he loves him; rather, Troy tells Cory he only acts out of duty towards him as a son, and that there’s no reason that love necessarily must be involved. Duty, for…

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The topic of death appears throughout the play in various forms, both in the physical death of two characters (Troy and Alberta), as well as in the stories told by Troy and through his brother Gabriel’s obsession with the Christian afterlife.

Troy mentions the grim reaper (“Mr. Death”) several times throughout the play, telling a story about how they once wrestled. Troy seems to believe that, while death is an…

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