Troy Maxson as both Victim and Victimizer in August Wilson’s Fences
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Troy Maxson is the central character in August Wilson’s play Fences. He is a 53-year-old African-American, a descendant of African slaves in America. Troy is a father of two sons by two women. The first is Lyons, a 34 year old jazz musician who is the son of a woman Troy meets when he is young. The second is Cory, a 17 year old football player who is the son of his present wife, Rose. Living in America during the 1950’s, Troy Maxson brings with him his experience as an African-American born during 1900’s to his present condition as a family man. He “embraces all the contradictions of being black and male and American in his time” (Rich 1). He experiences social discrimination against African-Americans.
He has to contend with menial work because during his time, this is the only work open to African-Americans having no education and opportunities for a more comfortable life. He is a good baseball player but because of the segregation of the baseball leagues of the blacks and the whites, he is not given the opportunity to play in the National League. As a family man, Troy asserts his cruel view of the world to his family. He wants his sons to follow in his footsteps and be content with manual labor. He hurts his wife, Rose by impregnating another woman and asking Rose to take care of his child from another woman. In August Wilson’s play Fences, the central character of Troy Maxson is both a victim of the racial discrimination and a victimizer to the freedom and personal development of his sons and wife.
Troy Maxson as a Victim
Troy is a victim of his past. He has a difficult childhood compounded by the fact that during his time, African-Americans are treated harshly by the society. They are descendants of African slaves and they are treated as second-class citizens. One of them is Troy Maxson’s father. Troy’s father’s only opportunity for work is to till the land of a wealthy landowner, Mr. Lubin. Troy tells his son Lyons the difficulty experienced by Troy’s father: “He ain’t knew how to do nothing but to farm. No, he was trapped and I think he knew” (Wilson 1. 4. 871). Because of his father’s situation, Troy is also forced at a young age to work in the farmland. Troy does not have the opportunity to go to school and learn how to read and write like the whites during his time.
At a young age of 14, he runs away to find a better life. But he finds a worst kind of living in the Northern part of America. He cannot find a job and resorts to stealing so he can have something to eat (Wilson 1. 4. 872). Before he meets Rose, Troy is imprisoned because he accidentally kills somebody while robbing him.
After serving 15 years in prison, Troy becomes a baseball player. During his time, there is a segregation of the white baseball players and the black baseball players. The whites play for the National League while the blacks play for the Negro League. Troy is a good baseball player. His long-time friend Bono says that there are only two men who played better baseball than Troy (Wilson 1. 1. 859). Troy knows this. He says that a player for Yankees hits at .269 while he hits much better at .432. His athletic capabilities go to waste because of his his age and color. He talks about his frustration with the sports political situation during that time:
I’m talking about if you could play ball then they ought to let you play. Don’t care what color you were. Come telling me I come along too early. If you could play. . . then they ought to have let you play (Wilson 1. 1. 860).
Troy can have a better life because of his good playing skills but because of the political situation turning against the African-Americans during his time, he is thrown into the work of a garbage collector.
Troy Maxson has a difficult life as a young African-American. As Shannon points out, Try Maxson is “a testament to what oppression of generations of black families has produced” (116). Troy could have had a better life if only during his time, there is equality of opportunity for the blacks.
As a family man, Troy Maxson is also a victim of work discrimination and the heavy responsibility of being the breadwinner for the family. At work, Troy Maxson complains to his boss that there is no equality between the whites and the blacks in his work: “Hell, anybody can drive a truck. How come you got all whites driving and the colored lifting?” (Wilson 1. 1. 858). Troy, like the other African-American laborers, is working as hard as the whites but because of racial discrimination at work, he is delegated to the more difficult and dirty job.
Troy Maxson is a victim to his lot as an African-American who has to think always of how his family is going to live. He reminds Rose about this when Rose complains that Troy does not stay in the house anymore: “Rose. . . I don’t mess up my pay. You know that now. I take my pay and give it to you. I don’t have no money but what you give me back. I just want a little time for myself” (Wilson 2. 2. 877). Troy is also trapped like his father that he run away from. His father has only the farm to work for; Troy has only the garbage collection to work for. Troy is a victim because he is not given the equal opportunity even if he is talented and an honest hard worker.
Troy Maxson as a Victimizer
Troy Maxson is a well-rounded character. He “commands a full range of emotions from pity to disgust” (Shannon 91). His being a victim of racial discrimination produces pity but his hurtful words and authoritarian and selfish ways bring another facet of his character.
Troy Maxson is also a victimizer to his sons and his wife. He gets in the way of their personal desires and needs.
Troy is unfair with his treatment of his wife, Rose. When Rose does not yet know of Troy’s affair with another woman, Troy talks to her like she is either a slave or an object for sexual gratification. In Act I Scene IV of the play that happens one Friday night after work, Troy arrives home with Bono and yells at Rose: “You suppose to come when I call you, woman. Bono’ll tell you that” (Wilson 869).
Troy talks about having sex with Rose in front of other people. Troy tells Bono how he loves Rose. He tells Bono that he loves Rose so much that he runs out of ways of showing his love for Rose except going back to the “basics” which is having sex with her. He tells Bono: “Don’t you come by my house Monday morning talking about time to go to work. . . ‘cause I’m still gonna be stroking!” (Wilson 1.1. 862).
But the worst victimization that Troy does to Rose is having an affair with another woman because of his selfishness. Troy tells Rose that he needs the other woman, Alberta because with her, he can forget about the problems at home and laugh (Wilson 2.1. 876). This is unfair for Rose because she also gives her whole self for Troy and for the family but she stays with Troy. She stays a good wife. She does not think about having freedom to do other things outside of the role of being a wife and mother. But Troy does not see Rose’s situation. He is only concerned with his. When Rose asks Troy, “What about me? Where’s my time to enjoy life”, Troy answers, “I don’t know what to tell you, Rose. I’m doing the best I can” (Wilson 2. 2. 877). Rose gives all of herself for her family and Troy’s selfishness victimizes her to give more of her time by being the mother to the child of Troy with another woman.
Troy Maxson also victimizes his two sons: Lyons and Cory. Troy is disappointed with his sons “who do not share his attitude about the world” (Savran 885). Lyons’ passion is jazz. He is a musician. Troy tells Lyons that he should find a work that will take care of him and his partner, Bonnie (Wilson 1. 1. 862). Troy is an authoritative father who scrutinizes his 34-year-old son’s life.
This is also the same with his young teenage son, Cory, who is victimized worst than Lyons because unlike Lyons, Cory is still dependent on Troy. He is still in school and he still lives in the house of Troy. Cory inherits Troy’s athletic skills. He excels in football. In the play, Cory is about to be recruited for college football team but Troy gets in the way of his dreams.
In Act I Scene III, Troy vehemently discourages Cory to give up his work in A&P supermarket and being serious with his football game. Troy does not know how to listen to his son. When Cory tells him that it is important for him and that with the recruitment, he can have a chance at college, Troy tells Cory, “I don’t care what nobody else say. I’m the boss. . . you understand? I’m the boss around here. I do the only saying that counts” (Wilson 868).
Troy destroys Cory’s hope for college education and a future that is better than Troy’s life. Troy talks to Cory’s football coach and tells him that Cory will not be recruited for the team (Wilson 2. 1. 873). Cory gets mad at Troy and tells him how he victimizes him: “Just cause you didn’t have a chance! You just scared I’m gonna be better than you, that’s all” (Wilson 2. 1. 873). Troy thinks that the world Cory lives in is still the world of his youth that does not give him the opportunity to play professional baseball.
Troy Maxson is a well-developed character that does not fall neatly into compartmentalized descriptions such as completely good or completely bad character. Like real people, Troy Maxson is a product of his experiences. His childhood and early adulthood experiences teach him the value of hard work and being strong against the cruel and discriminating world. He is a victim of the 1900’s racial discrimination against descendants of African slaves in America. He is also a victimizer who treats his wife unfairly and holds back his sons’ chances at being somebody other than him who believes that African-Americans are good only for providing for a family and working for manual labor for meager payment. Troy Maxson is both a victim and a victimizer; a complex character.
Rich, Frank. “Theater: Family Ties in Wilson’s Fences.” New York Times 27 March 1987, sec. II: 1.
Shannon, Sandra G. “Developing Character: Fences.” The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson. Washington, D.C: Howard University Press, 1995, 89-117.
Savran, David. “Interview with August Wilson.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Drama. 4th Ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobs. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005, 885-887.
Wilson, August. “Fences.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Drama. 4th Ed. Ed. Lee A Jacobs. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005, 857-884.