Symbols in Wilson's Fences

Symbolism is one of the literary devices commonly used in drama. The symbol imparts the hidden meanings other than the apparent ones and also shows the emotional effects on the characters. In Fences August Wilson used some vital symbols to cater the meaning of the hidden pains and motives of the characters.

August Wilson (1945-2005)

One of the significant symbols in Fences is trains. When Troy brings his illegitimate daughter Raynell at home for the first time, he sings a song "Please Mr. Engineer, let a man ride the line". During Harlem Renaissance and slavery period, train has become a major symbol which represents change. It stands for the coming of a major change in a character's life.  The song in the given situation of the life of Troy refers to his acknowledgment that he has caused many changes in the lives of his family members. He is now homeless and helpless. He confesses his guilt of adultery and asks humbly to Rose, his wife to accept him (let a man ride the line). The train song also implies the time in the past when Troy and other men of his generation spent roaming North during the Great Migration. The lines, "I ain't got no ticket, please let me ride the blinds," depicts the poverty they experienced.

Another vital symbol in the play is fences. Throughout the play Troy neglects to build fences that Rose has ordered him. His negligence to build the fence symbolically stands for his negligence or irresponsibility towards his family. Troy's lack of commitment to finishing the fence also parallels his lack of commitment in his marriage. It stands for the physical and emotional barrier between him and his son Cory. The fence is different for different characters in the play. For Rose, it is a means to keep his dear and loved ones within her reach, within the fence. It is positive and necessary for her to build. She frequently tells Troy and Cory to build the fence together, which implicitly means that she wants to reestablish the bond between father and the son. Rose may instinctively feel that her family is disintegrating, and the fence is her way of trying to symbolically hold it together. For Bono, the fence is symbolic to the betrayal of Troy to his wife. For Troy fence is the replica of all the barriers he has faced in his life. It was his cruel and abusive father. Then it was poverty and homelessness. Next it was the racism that kept him from the professional baseball career that he rightly deserved.

The devil is next important symbol in the play Fences. Troy casts the Devil as the main character of his exaggerated stories. Troy's association of the Devil as a harbinger of death comes to represent his struggle to survive the trials his life. The devil in his imagination symbolizes the hostility and the cowardice of the racism. In his later life he loses all the love from his family members, friends and brother.  It is not the result of racism, but the devil he carries within him that become bigger and greater force in the due course of the time. He can never change himself with the flow of the time and the demand of the time. He remains suppressed within because of his bygone days and the suppression he felt during his youth. His living in the past itself is the devil within him.

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