One often wonders whether fences were built to keep people out or to keep them in. August Wilson's play shows us both sides of that old adage. Troy has just finished serving fifteen years in prison and now has an honest job. Upon returning to his life, however, he wants to rule the lives of his wife, Rose, who is more than willing, his injured brother, Gabriel, who doesn't understand the world's realities any more, and his son, Cory, who dreams of going to college and play football, but whose dreams are shattered by his father's different dreams for him.
It would be easy to say that Troy destroyed his family, and, eventually himself. Wilson searches far deeper for the reasons Troy does and says what he does. It is the 1950s, and slowly things are changing for American's blacks. Yet, the change comes too late for Troy. Yet, he makes every attempt to stand up for racial justice in his own way. It would be simplistic to say that the reason Troy won't sign those papers for his son to be recruited, and perhaps, go on to college, is -- as he explains it -- "The white man ain't gonna let you get nowhere with that football no way. You go on and get your book learning so you can work yourself up in the A & P, or learn how to fix cars or build houses or something, get you a trade. That way you have something nobody can take away from you" (Wilson, 1986, p.35).
To the casual reader or viewer of the play, this is the point at which it might appear that Troy doesn't want his son to get ahead. Cory himself says as much later on, "You ain't never done nothin' but hold me back. Afraid I was gonna be better than you" (p 86). What is the purpose of Troy's relationship with his family? There are not many facets to this, one seems merely to want to go over some of the ones that made the greatest impression.
For one thing, Troy is trying hard to be the stable family man, trying to keep his eyes and hands (and other body parts) ...