Plays are excellent mediums to express emotion, characters, and plots. This sample literature review August Wilson’s play “Fences” and the ways in which the play mimics a classic Greek tragedy.
Troy’s tragic story
August Wilson very thoughtfully and wisely designed his play Fences to mimic the logic of a Greek tragedy. In doing so, he set up the main character of the play, Troy, to represent the typical notion of a tragic hero with a tragic flaw. Though Troy’s tragic flaw is far more complex than many of the Ancient Greek tragedies’ main characters, it is also fairly easy to discover once the play is analyzed carefully.
Aristotle clearly shows in Poetics the necessary factors for a tragic flaw by stating “The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad. It should come about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty” (Part 13).
Troy’s misunderstanding of the fence and what it symbolizes embodies Troy’s tragic flaw because he cannot seem to relate to his wife’s need to build a fence. He exemplifies this in three very specific ways by his extramarital affair with Alberta, the way he treats his son, and how he actually pays his mortgage.
Heroic traits and connections to Greek tragedies
Troy, however, also exhibits classic tragic hero character traits because over the course of the play Troy is shown to be someone that does deeply love his wife and tries to do what’s best for his family. He has a job and supports his family with it, as well as fights for his rights within his job by talking to the union and becoming an African-American driver of a garbage truck rather than simply lifting the garbage into the truck.
Troy also fought death metaphorically and begged to fight Death literally, which is a primary heroic trait, and common in stories in ancient Greece. These heroic character traits do not satisfy the needs of a true hero because Troy is bogged down with other traits that are purely not heroic. Ultimately, Troy’s primary tragic flaw is shown by his failure to be faithful to his wife. While Troy and Bono seemingly endlessly discuss the matter, Troy is unable to access the actual reason for being unfaithful to his wife. Essentially, he simply fails.
In the play, Troy says, “It ain’t about nobody being a better woman or nothing. done locked myself into a pattern trying to take care of you all” (66).
Troy explains that it is not Rose’s fault that he has been having an affair with Alberta, but rather that it is Troy’s fault for not taking care of himself because he was taking care of his family. Troy’s justification may seem reasonable at first, but realistically he is not taking care of his family either. Therefore, through some sort of “error” as Aristotle would’ve said, Troy has been unable to stay faithful to his wife and to take care of his family, which raises the next flaw that Troy has as a character.
Troy’s devotion to family and fallacies as caretaker
Troy’s lack of ability to take care of his family becomes fairly prevalent as the play continues past the first scene. Troy cannot allow his son to play football or accept the fact that his son may be able to make a life and career out of it because Troy was unable to do so with baseball. Troy believes that he never made it to the major league because he was African American, but does not admit that by the time African Americans were allowed in sports, he was simply too old to actually play in the majors. He forces himself to believe the same will happen to Cory, his son.
Cory clearly thinks that Troy’s failures are to blame for his refusal to accept his son’s ability to play football because he says “Just cause you didn’t have a chance! You just scared I’m gonna be better than you, that’s all” (56).
Cory stated the truth about why Troy failed to actually play baseball in the major league, but Troy cannot accept this as a fact. Troy eventually forces Cory out of the house because of Cory’s refusal to be like Troy basing his decision on a financial one. If Cory can’t respect his father, then his father won’t take care of him.
Troy’s tragic ending
The notion that Troy needed to force his son out of the house because he refuses to be financially responsible for him is ridiculous because Troy is financially dependent on the checks that he gets because of Gabriel’s war injury. Troy has been using the money to pay his mortgage on his house most of the time and therefore is financially dependent on Gabriel.
As the story nears it end and Troy is now dead, it seems inevitable that there will be some friction for Cory to go to the funeral though he eventually does decide to go. Troy’s tragic flaw is what ultimately killed him because he was trying to hit the baseball in the backyard refusing to accept himself for who he is, but it also shows his heroic character because even in death he is able to bring his family together.
In conclusion, Troy’s downfall was brought about by his failure to understand the person he actually was. Though Troy had some upsides like his desire to hold his family together or his lack of fear of death, he ultimately was too frail a character to be faithful to his wife, to treat his son as different than himself, and to be able to accept financial responsibility for his own life and his family’s wellbeing. Troy’s tragic flaw was his failure to effectively use the metaphoric fence.
Rose used a fence to bring people together and to keep them safe as she did by accepting Raynell as her own child. Troy managed to use his fence to separate himself from the rest of the world emotionally by destroying his relationships with his family and friends. Wilson shows the reader and viewer that fences can tear people apart or bring them together, which is the final lesson of the tragic hero.
Butcher, S. H.. Poetics. New York: Hill and Wang, 1961. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences: a play. New York: New American Library, 1986. Print.