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 in a gesture of ‘masculine’ hubris. While Cory grew up being incredibly passive and submissive to his father out of fear, he gradually starts acting out of his own self-interest (such as his pursuit of football) in his later teens. Troy actively denounces Cory’s attempts to define and pursue his own goals, and believes that Cory is obligated to absolutely bend to his way insofar as Cory lives under his roof. But this eventually pushes Cory to leave home and curse his father’s treatment of him and his mother. Earlier in the play, Troy describes a similar situation with his own father growing up. Troy’s father, while a tough man to live with, looked after his children, according to his account. But Troy, getting into a severe conflict with his father one day, left his father—like his own son—to go out on his own.
Perhaps as a symptom of his own struggles with leading a stable life as an independent man, Troy, in trying to protect Cory from similar struggles, seems to ultimately think that Cory’s desire to make his own decisions fundamentally contradicts their father-son relationship. It’s as if, in order for Cory to become a man—which would inevitably involve assuming independence from his father’s command—he must necessarily be at odds with his father.
Further, Wilson seems to be exposing us to one kind of ‘masculinity,’ one way it is constructed and defined—and how that construction is based in the social world around it as well as in the characters’ personal history. In this case, the masculinity is that of Troy, and can be interpreted as something of an archetype of a certain kind of working black father in the 50s.
This masculinity is defined by having defied one’s father in the past, endured poverty propped-up by a racist society, and failed to follow one’s dreams—but having nonetheless survived, stayed alive, and kept going, despite all the odds. In the eyes of their father, then, Cory and Lyons live comparatively privileged lives having been entirely provided for until they were grown. But, in the eyes of Troy’s sons—especially Cory—this isn’t enough. Cory doesn’t feel loved by his father, and can’t see how his father’s harshness is in anyway symptomatic of something larger than him and beyond his control. The play perhaps shouldn’t be read as siding with Troy’s treatment of his children and his decisions in raising them—rather, it tries to show, once again, how two worldviews clash in the father-son relation.
Wilson doesn’t seem to offer a clean-cut solution to escaping the cycle of misunderstanding, anger, and stuck-in-the-past-ness characteristic of men like Troy and their fathers. He does show, however, how they can have such incredible power in shaping the future of their children—e.g., Cory doesn’t get to go to college—and therefore the future generation. Additionally, Wilson shows how difficult it is to free oneself from such a father without totally severing the relationship.
Ultimately, Wilson’s decision to make the conflict between father and son the central pivot of the play underscores his desire to show how abstract forces of history—particularly white social and economic power—manifest themselves, through their racist exertion on peoples’ lives, in real, concrete, everyday lived black experience. The microscopic, psychological relationship between a father and his son is one of the most intimate venues for those more macroscopic forces, and as such, is very powerful to witness—it’s a venue with an educational power for white audiences.
Manhood and Fathers ThemeTracker
Manhood and Fathers Quotes in Fences
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.