The Impacts of Racism (Fences by August Wilson Book Review)


Shattered dreams and overlooked potential may drive an individual to radical changes. This is exemplary of August Wilson’s Fences. He details the struggles of protagonist Troy Maxson. Troy, a talented baseball player, encounters racial conflicts of his time and is forbidden to play at the professional level due to his skin color. The everlasting effects of this outcome haunt him. Repercussions arise in the future to damage relationships within his household. Fences shows that racial injustices can create many unwanted conflicts, and issues among families.

The premise of August Wilson’s Fences was to detail the wrongdoings of society at the time it was staged. The play, which took place in the 1950s, presents many cases of racial inequalities that African-Americans faced. He represents multiple issues through the main character, Troy Maxson. The most notable problem stemmed from Troy’s experience playing baseball. Troy, who proclaimed to be better than most white baseball players, was never given an opportunity to show his skills in the major leagues due to his race. Although his wife Rose believes this wasn’t an issue relating to race, stating “Troy why don’t you admit you were too old to play in the major leagues' ' to which he responds “ What do you mean too old? Don’t come telling me I was too old. I just wasn’t the right color.” (Wilson39). Whether Troy was truly great enough to play professionally or not, his skin color decreased his chances of playing. Discrimination took away endless opportunities from people of color in the fifties. This ultimately led to Troy believing in the idea that there is no future for a black man in the sports world. Troy’s bitterness causes conflict to arise long after his playing days.

Years after Troy’s baseball career, his son Cory has been recognized as a talented football player and is being recruited to play at the collegiate level. He sees this as an opportunity to benefit himself and potentially pursue a career as a professional athlete. Even though racism still lurks contagiously in society, more African-American players have been allowed to participate in professional sports. So the possibility of him truly living out this dream of playing football is not completely out of the picture. Troy, however, forbids his son from becoming involved in a career gathered around sports. Troy stated: “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” (Wilson 35). Troy’s experience with baseball won’t enable him to take a chance at allowing his son to fall the same way he did. Cory strongly disagrees with his father’s reasoning and pleads that he be allowed to play. He tells his father about how more colored players are being allowed to play in the majors. However, Troy won’t comply with his son. He seems to have the right intentions for his son, but deep down he may be envious of the newly given opportunities to African-Americans. Cory, out of anger and frustration, states, “Just cause you didn’t have a chance! You just scared I’m gonna be better than you, that’s all” (Wilson 58). In fact, Cory manifests the idea that his father hates him. Troy doesn’t hate him and believes he is doing what’s best for his son. The two continue to argue, further damaging their relationship as a whole.

The effects of racism on Troy’s family are very disheartening. Troy’s experiences latched on to him and refuted his son’s dream of playing football. Perhaps he was envious of the new opportunities. This seems very clear in the play when Troy criticizes Jackie Robinson. Many critics of the play agree with this claim stating that “While Troy’s criticism of Robinson causes some to recoil—noting that Troy seems partly motivated by “jealousy” (Saunder 49) toward “Robinson, and other baseball players who now have opportunities he was denied” (Letzler 301).  Unfortunately, this was the case for most colored athletes at Troy’s time, and he had every right to be angered given that he had outstanding statistics. “Most take for granted that had Troy been given a chance in the major leagues, he would have not only played better than a journeyman like Selkirk but “could have … surpassed even the likes of Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth” (Shannon 97) (Letzler 301).  However, his exclusion from the majors should not be something that limits his son from playing football when the tide seems to be changing for African Americans. What if Cory went on to become something great in football? Cory could’ve been the next Jim Brown. My grandpa, who played with the legendary running back at Syracuse, tells me that “ Jim was the greatest athlete I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. No one compares to him”. Potentially, Cory could have developed into a player like that, but we will never know because he wasn’t given a chance. Not only is his talent going to be forgotten, it is at the hands of his own father. Their relationship was forever destroyed due to the corruption of society.

August Wilson adequately captured the message he was trying to present on racism. Discrimination and unfair treatment can taint the American dream. Opportunities should never be taken for granted, regardless of your status. Racism endeavors to limit the success of minorities and damage their relationships with others. In fact, it still lingers today, but at a less aggressive level. Racial conflicts need to be eradicated to allow all to shine in their own spotlight. Endless potential goes unrecognized while the capabilities are everlasting.

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