First, the epigraph, or an interpretation of it, shows up in one of Rose’s monologues in Act 2, scene 3:
When the sins of our fathers visit us
We do not have to play host.
We can banish them with forgiveness
As God, in His Largeness and Laws.
Second, the play is clearly another Wilson tragedy, but while it lacks the Greek Chorus of Seven Guitars or the prologue of Gem, “The Play” more than suffices as a prediction of things to come. Moreover, let me note here that while the first paragraph addresses Wilson’s father, the second addresses his mother and her ancestral line. The third and final paragraph brings it home to the play’s present setting.
My practice is to include references to the passages I have highlighted or added comments and margin notes to on the present read. I will continue to adhere to that protocol.
A couple of things stand out for me in Scene 1.
Bono mentions of Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson, both historic personalities, somewhat legitimizes the play in a historical time setting. Troy establishes his philosophic credentials as a Stoic, facing death squarely and honestly (memento mori) and having no fear of Satan. Lyons connects to Ma Rainey and the blues tradition, describing music as something that “helps him get out of bed in the morning” and “makes him “feel like he belongs in the world.” Lyons also pushes back when Troy makes a derogatory comment about how his mother raised him, saying “You don’t know nothing about how I was raised.”
Scene 2 introduces us to Gabriel, Troy’s brother, slightly disabled from the war, WWII. Again, Wilson forces us to acknowledge the existence of the disabled and how we must offer them a reasonable accommodation in our lives. We saw this with Hedley in Seven Guitars, with Sylvester in Ma Rainey, and to a limited extent, with Herald Loomis in Joe Turner. And we will see it again. Wilson exhibits a high sensitivity to the needs of the disabled and the mentally and intellectually-challenged.
Scene 3 introduces us to Cory, Troy and Rose’s youngest son, and his relationship with both. Note: It’s not a very conspicuous introduction, and it is almost as if Cory had always been with us, just hidden.
Scene 4 reveals that Troy’s “going to the Taylors” to watch TV is really code word for going to see “That Alberta girl,” as Bono calls her. Bono senses early that Troy’s catting around with Alberta is not kosher. Bono introduces “Searching out the New Land” and “the walking blues.” And we learn about Troy’s relationship with his father.
Act Two Scene 1 opens and closes with Troy, Rose and Cory, the central three-way relationship in the play. Troy reveals that he has been unfaithful. Cory has lied to continue playing football. Rose questions Troy’s infidelity. Cory reaches strike two with his father.
Scene 2 is Troy and Rose exclusively. Troy’s functional illiteracy is fully exposed in the process of getting Gabriel committed. And Alberta dies in childbirth.
Scene 3 is a short scene wherein Rose establishes that she will be a mother to Troy’s new baby, with a reflection of the language of the play’s original epigraph.
Scene 4 shows Troy’s total unraveling, and because today is April 19, I wrote a poem about it for my daily submission to NaPoWriMo:
Fences – Act Two, Scene Four. Troy’s slow descent into Hell.
In the denouement our classic warrior
(Such is the tragedy that was his life)
Loses all that was once near and dear.
The cherished love of his wife is broken
After her decision to not refuse
The result of his infidelity.
He loses the respect of his son,
So long assumed, compelled by fear,
Never inspired by true affection.
His best friend doesn’t come around
Any more, not even for a Friday drink
That once satisfied a parched thirst.
Finally, abandoned by his own sense
of taste (Yes! A multiple metaphor!),
He is left to swing aimlessly at all
Those fast balls on life’s outside corners.
Scene 5 is the Troy funeral scene.