Absurdism in Fences

6 June 2016

August Wilson was the most profound play writer chronicling the socio perspectives of African American society in the darker shades. “Fences” is August Wilson’s psychological struggle and disposition of the inner realities and sub conscious mind of the protagonists in their quest for identity in the white dominated society.

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Various dark realities of the life like despair; fear and loneliness felt by protagonists in the play reflect the feeling of absurdism. By using as marginal character as that of Troy, Wilson brought on the stage the frayed and troubled human lives of the blacks torn between what is true and what is expected of them. Some say that Fences is a tragedy but for some it is a common humor but it is a story of life filled with despair but eventually with the hope to take on the dignified life with security and happiness.

The use of absurdism had been the most exciting and creative movements that led several play writers to make human beings know the real meaning and existence of life. The real beginning of absurdism was made by the existentialist writers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus along with others like Eugene Ionesco, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Edward Albee, and Harold Pinter etc. with the concept of simple story and free images.

Over and above, absurdism is recognized in the plays by fairly rationalized ideas of the world without any discipline or order. Language is a barrier for communication instead of a facilitator in this context. In other words, absurdism develops in characters an environment whereby there is no essence, where people lead away-secluded life and wander away thinking what to do. Through the dark phases of life, absurdism brings the people near to the characters and closer to oneself.

The life of characters in Fences is bound by the socio and political structures of 1950s and move on to 1965. The story revolves around Tory Maxon who is a black garbage collector and it is his struggle with the society for fair treatment and his relationship with his family, which is the crux of the play. His frustration and rebellious mood creates barrier between him and his family, which sets the tone for absurdism in most of his actions.

All through his life, disappointments loom large over his fate and the hardships that he has to face while supporting himself and his family.

Troy had to spend his childhood days under the care of his poor, abusive and yet hardworking father and he had to leave his father’s house without any resources at his disposal. His poverty took him to jail, as he had to commit minor crimes to sustain his living. While behind bars, Troy learned to play baseball and soon was selected to play at the Negro League as the best home-run hitters. But when Troy reached maturity, Major Leagues disallowed the blacks to play for them and again Troy found himself incapable of supporting his family, but very soon he got a job at the sanitation department. Yet again the discriminatory practices of Union left him without promotion even after so many years of hard work and toil.

Troy’s complaint against his Union and his fight for fair treatment is the most positive aspect in Troy’s behavior but as a human being, he unintentionally or under the circumstances and with his sweet-will made certain choices that turned out to be problematic for others. He would not allow Cory to attend college on football scholarship, as according to him there was no career in sports for boys. He would also not agree to Lyon’s decision on becoming a musician and with the habit of playing numbers by Rose.

As said by Pereira, “Tory’s obduracy springs from his bitterness over the fact that, despite his brilliant talent, he could not play major league baseball, while lesser white players become stars”. (Pereira, 1995, pp. 37)

Troy has always been considered as the most responsible man but he creates illusions around himself owing to his own distorted dreams. His character reflects absurdism in the scenes where he creates fictitious world of his own. The play begins with Troy entertaining Bono and Rose with an Epic story of his struggle with the personified death, or devil. He again creates fictitious story during the time he is denying his best friend Bono about his extra marital relation with Alberta.

His created illusions also result in number of conflicts of minor nature with his family members. Rose, his wife opposes his self-created stories about himself and his versions about his past. Absurd sequence comes in the way Troy takes on hypocrisy. On one hand, Troy wants his family and loved ones live practical and responsible life and on the other hand, he himself enters into an extra marital affair.

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