August Wilson gave the reader / theatre audience a chance to look back not only in the world of his characters, but also in our own world. It is easy to look at the present and future while ignoring the past, but what happens now and will happen tomorrow is the consequence of what happened yesterday. So, inheritance in Fences is not only a matter of family, but of society. It is somewhat a study of Naturalism: What made us who we are? Is it our family, our environment or just our genes, destiny, karma?
In the playTroy is a victim of his failed dreams; after all, he had tasted a promise of prosperity, which was later denied to him. His inability to deal with his deferred dreams made him a bitter man inside in search for a reason to live. So, he turned to adrenaline to feel alive. Criminality and adultery provided him with the substance that would make him feel young and capable. His dark side, he would not want to pass on to his kids, but also not the good one, the promising one – the one that almost saved his life, but because of the world he lived in, where segregation was the days’ order, it would not permit him to climb the ladder in the sports’ scene. Years later, however, things were changing for better, yet he refused to see it for his son for two factors: one, he might have felt over-protective of him, trying to avoid the pain of disappointment he had experienced, and second, he might have felt jealous of Cory’s promising future, the one he never had.
Either way, the weight of inheritance was clearly on Cory’s shoulders. It is as if he couldn’t move without being reminded of the colour of his skin or of his father’s past. The question that this play asks, I think, is if Cory would have been better off without such weight of inheritance, at least the one he could try to run away from: his family. I think that when things come too easy, a person tends to underestimate its value, so at the end of the play, Cory’s life did not turn out to be what he had hoped for (he joined the army), but at least he learnt something.
Cory’s inheritance made his skin thicker to deal with the world’s problems. In relation to the play, I don’t believe that there are families without even the slightest bit of drama, and honestly, I do believe that such familiar difficulties help a person to grow, that is when the difficulties are considered ‘decent’, or ‘appropriate’.
In this regard, Wilson is asking not only his characters but also his audience to know themselves, their past and their present to work on a better future. One cannot deny his identity as identity is strongly related with inheritance. Despite the development of a total independent person from what the parents used to be, there’ll always be a trace of the bloodline in the veins.
As for the fences per se, it is about what influences that the family keep in or out their home. For Troy, they could also symbolize the changes that he is refusing to see. For Rose, the fences could stop her husband and children from danger and ‘adventure’. For Cory, it could symbolize a barrier to his development. Either way, I think that this play makes a strong case for discussion not only for the memorable characters, for the deep pain disguised in shallow talk, but because it is still very much contemporary, for the imaginary barrier between white and black Americans known as racism. The fact that the country elected a black president does not mean that racism ceased to exist.
Luciana B. Veit