17 April 2012
Men of their Day
August Wilson once said; “confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” And in his play Fences he does just that by examining the life of Troy Maxson a fictitious character who was a former baseball player in the negro leagues, but is now a garbage man with a family eking out modest a living in what is presumably the town of Pittsburgh. Although it is never stated which town it is, Fences is part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle of plays.
Wilson describes Troy in the opening narrative of the play as;
Fifty-three years old, a large man with thick, heavy hands; it is this largeness that he strives to fill out and make accommodation with. Together with his blackness, his largeness informs his sensibilities and the choices he has made in his life. (1.1.)
Furthermore, Troy had spent fifteen years in prison prior to the time in which the play is set. Wilson often stated that he believed that there is a large division between black and white cultures in America, that black Americans are often required to give up too much of their own cultural heritage to fit into “white” society.
However, the image of Troy painted by Wilson bespeaks itself less of the differences and instead demonstrates the commonality in us all. In fact Troy is much like another character, this one from an extremely popular television series that first aired just few years before Wilson started writing his play. Archie Bunker and Troy Maxson share some of the same personality traits and it influences the world around them and how they inter-act with it. There are also some significant differences between the two.
Archie Bunker one of the main characters from the television series All in the Family was a blue collar family man who is fifty years old and World War II vet when the series starts. Like everyone else, both Archie and Troy are shaped from the experiences of their lives, but it is in their childhood where the similarities begin. Troy describes his early life as an abusive one. In fact both he and Archie had abusive fathers. Troy is able to recognize this Archie however is not. Troy’s abuse stemmed from physical beatings from his father, as Troy describes it in the play;
When my daddy turned to face me, I could see why the devil had never come to get him…’cause he was the devil himself. I don’t know what happened. When I woke up, I was lying there by the creek, and Blue… this old dog… we had was licking my face. I thought I was blind. I couldn’t see nothing. Both my eyes were swollen shut. I laid there and cried. I didn’t know what I was going to do. The only I knew was the time had come for me to leave my daddy’s house… (1.4.)
although Archie was mentally abused by his father and he can describe the abuse he suffered, he because of his denial seems to have difficulty understanding he was in fact abused.
According to the Child Maltreatment Report conducted by Cornell University and published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services in 2009, out of 6 million children there were 3.3 million cases of possible abuse. Of those approximately 24 percent were substantiated. Their statistics also showed that 30 percent of abused children go on to abuse their own children, both Troy and Archie much to their credit do not, although both of them are extremely controlling over their children. There are many additional after effects of abuse, the abused tend to be arrested in their maturity, they also tend to be controlling as well as exhibiting other abnormal behaviors, depending on type and severity of abuse. Both Troy and Archie exhibit an extremely narrow view of the world around them, because of the abuse that each of them endured because of their fathers, for them this could have been a significant factor in helping to shape that narrow minded view of the world around them.
Additionally both Troy and Archie share an inadequate educational background, Troy had to leave home and thus school in his early teens because of conflicts with his father and Archie had to leave school about the same time to help support his family during the Great Depression. Their lack of education further affects their views on the world and the people who live on it. However, even here there they not only share things in common but they also have their differences too. Their lack of a full secondary school education causes each of them to display a lack of trust or even faith in the world around them. The difference here comes to play in in how they view what education means to their children. Troy wants his son Cory to move on and become someone better than him. Archie although supportive of his daughter going to college is jealous of the fact that his son in law also goes to college, even though unlike Troy, Archie could have gone back to school through the G.I. bill, he didn’t.
Troy was a talented baseball player but felt that life passed him by when because of his age he was unable to get into the Major Leagues after the “Color Barrier” was broken by Jackie Robinson. This disappointment fuels his desire for his son Cory to stay out of football, because he believes after his experience with professional sports Cory was probably going to be taken advantage of, and in the end have nothing to show for it except angst and sorrow, something that Troy seems to know all to well. Wilson shows this in the play in a discussion between Rose and Troy:
ROSE: Why don’t you let the boy go ahead and play football, Troy? Ain’t no harm in that. He’s just trying to be like you with the sports.
TROY: I don’t want him to be like me! I want him to move as far away from my life as he can get. You the only decent thing that ever happened to me. I wish him that. But I don’t wish him a thing else from my life. I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports. (1.3.)
Archie was a talented high school baseball player that had to leave school to help his family, and because of this he was not able to further himself in the game either. So both of them harbor regrets and anger over the careers they could but did not have.
Troy and Archie’s similarities continue Troy spent time in jail and Archie in the army, although these institutions are more evolved in how they handle the men and women under their control now, during this time in history both taught discipline with a violent edge and did not do much to promote education. Which greatly contributes to both the aggressive and uneducated sides of both men, also contributing to their aggressive natures and how they deal with them goes back to when they were abused. Troy like his father before him is a more physically aggressive person always ready for a fight this attitude can be seen in the scenes where Troy argues with Cory, and in his monologues with death. Whereas, Archie probably also not unlike his father, tends to avoid physical confrontations instead he usually mouths off his aggression, and though he does a lot of physical posturing, is rarely ever physically aggressive.
Although both men love their wives, Troy is definitely more open about his feelings on the subject, this is apparent in his conversation with Bono and Rose on the porch;
TROY: Aw, woman… come here. Look here Bono… when I met this woman…I got out that place, say “Hitch up my pony, saddle up my mare….there’s a woman out there for me somewhere. I looked here .Looked there. Saw Rose and latched on to her.” I latched on to her and told her-I’m going to tell you the truth-I told her “Baby, I don’t wanna marry, I just wanna be your man.” Rose told me… tell him what you told me, Rose.
ROSE: I told him if he wasn’t the marrying kind, then move out the way so the marrying kind could find me.
TROY: That’s what she told me. “Nigger, you in my way. You blocking the view! Move out the way so I can find me a husband.” I thought it over two or three days. Come back-
ROSE: Ain’t no two or three days nothing. You was back the same night. (1.1.)
Whereas Archie says he’s not into all the “mushy stuff.” It isn’t until after Edith’s death from a stroke that he shows how much he really cares for her, when he finds one of her slippers under the bed and goes into a mourning monologue, sobbing about how he wanted one more chance to say to her “I love you.” However they both do things to prove to their wives their affection for them. They’re also unfortunately a great source of grief for their wives, for Troy this happens when his wife Rose finds out that he had an affair and a child with another woman. A child that will be coming to live with them since her mother died in child birth, and also when he drives Cory away from home. For Archie’s wife Edith it happens when he forges her signature to purchase a bar and he also had a problem with another woman, he strayed just once, nearly having an affair with a female friend, Denise.
Both men love their children Troy demonstrates this when he constantly gives money to Lyons, all the while bemoaning the fact that Lyons doesn’t have a steady paying job and when he keeps Cory’s football in the closet even though he fought Cory tooth and nail about getting involved with football in the first place, and ultimately threw Cory out of his house, the football was there as a reminder of his now estranged son. Archie like Troy reveals a weak spot when it comes to Gloria his daughter. He allowed her to marry Michael even though he was Jewish, and capitulates frequently to what she wants. He in fact shows Gloria more open affection during the show then he does his wife Edith. Which is opposite of Troy who shows great affection for Rose, while showing almost none to Cory or Lyons.
Troy and Archie both have their racist/bigoted side. In the play Troy uses the word cracker to refer to white people and Archie labels everyone around him for example, he refers to black people as colored. Neither man though commits any known act of violence against anyone over their beliefs. In Archie’s case he was offered the chance to join a hate organization but refused citing his disdain for the appalling way they conducted themselves. Instead they’re both portrayed as men of their day and speaking in ways that were common then and in some instances are still common today.
There is one last important similarity between these two flawed individuals it is perhaps the most important thing that allows these two developmentally arrested victims to be called men. Troy shows a great depth of character in the way in which he deals with his brother Gabe. Gabe was wounded in the Second World War and the injury, a head wound, left him unable to truly care for himself. Although Troy did take money from Gabe to use as a down payment on his house, and regularly took portions of his check for other expenses. He also gave Gabe a place to live and cared for his brother he watched over him, bailed him out of jail, went to court with him to plead on his brother’s behalf and when he realized that he might be getting too old, or that he was going to have new responsibilities with another child on the way. He did have Gabe committed, but he never threatened his brother nor did he ever strike his brother, or turn him away from his home. His compassion for Gabe is perhaps his most redeeming quality. Archie’s bout with compassion comes when he allows Edith to take in her nine year old step-niece Stephanie. Even though Archie disapproves of it in the beginning he warms up to the girl and even allows her to continue practicing her religion which is Judaism. Something earlier in the series Archie would not have wanted her to do.
For Troy his story sadly ends with him dying and issues from his interactions left unresolved. The fence itself is finished, except in the end it only keeps in those who wish to be there. Although, Troy’s daughter Raynell does allow Troy some room to grow, and to re-define the world around him through her. Troy is never quite able to get away from the devils in his past. To that end his exodus leaves a dark hole in the lives of some of the people around him. The end of Archie’s story shows that he is able to move ever so slowly forward as he goes from laborer to foreman to business owner to adoptive father and widower. But even as we see the last of him, he too like Troy is still some ways trapped by the ghosts of his past.
So it can be said that there may be cultural differences between Blacks and Whites, there are also similarities too. It in those similarities that we are reminded that all humans are beings no matter what others may think and as much as we can see the differences between the Troys and Archies of the world they’re basic two sides of the same coin and if that is extended further, it may also see that in all other things and with all other people the differences that divide aren’t that big after all.
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