Familial conflicts form the majority of the themes in literary works. Many of them are aimed at providing teachings on family relationships, growth, financial pressures, independence, and responsibility. August Wilson’s play Fences has the conflict between a father and his two sons as the main theme, around which the play centers. Although it is expected that sons should admire their father, form a close relationship, and learn many life’s lessons from him, it is the opposite between Troy and his son Cory. Indeed, they differ in very many things, almost everything, and none of them shows interest in making their relationship work. The main cause of the father-son conflict is their different interpretation of the past and their different hopes for the future.
Troy’s character mirrors the habits he inherited by observing his father when he was young. He has a negative attitude towards his father, disliking him because of the harsh way he treated Troy. One of the traits of his father Troy did not like was his tendency to have many children from different women. He also notes that none of the women stayed with his father for long because he was a very evil man. It means that Troy spent most of his childhood without his mother, which made him hate his father even more. Their conflict reached the climax when Troy’s father beat Troy for leaving a mule he was supposed to look after while he was messing with a girl. He was not aware that his father had a crush on the girl who he had been eyeing. Troy’s father raped the girl, which was something that made Troy hate his father and break their relationship. He moved out of his father’s house at the age of fourteen to live alone. He struggled to make ends meet, taking the lesson of being responsible like his father (Claudia). He remembered the lesson even being an adult, insisting on his taking responsibility for his family. Unfortunately, he internalized the idea that becoming a man means moving away from the person that brought you up, signifying the necessity of separation of a father and a son. The conflict he had with his father affects his relationship with his sons to an extent that he ends up behaving like his father whom he loathed.
The basis of the conflit between Troy and Cory was the generational gap between them that made their interpretation of history and their future hopes antagonistic (Soumya). Troy wanted to play baseball as a young man while in school, but he never had the chance because of racial discrimination, although he was a very talented player. Only white students got the available chances. He thus grew up knowing that a black person can never be successful in any institution that is administered by white people with sports being one of them. A conflict starts when his son, Cory, develops an interest in making a career as a football player (Nicole). Though being aware of previous racial discrimination, he has hopes that he can make it to the major league if he shows talent. Unfortunately, his father still believes that discrimination never ends in sports teams, and thus, he endeavors to ensure his son to get an education, which is something that no one can take away. He thus does not let his son practice with the football team after school, instead telling him to work in the A & P. He also tries to prevent Cory from making a football career by shunning a scout that wanted to recruit Cory. He says “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football no way. You go on and get your book learning so you can work yourself up in that A&P or learn how to fix cars...That way you have something can’t nobody take away from you...” (Wilson and Seret). It shows that he is determined to make sure Cory does not play football. It is possible that Troy wanted to protect his son from a possible racial discrimination. However, his son does not interpret it that way; he sees it as a plan by Troy to sabotage his football career. The source of the conflict is not personal differences, but rather a history of black oppression by white people. The father sees the present as a continuation of history, while the son sees the present as distinct from history (Elam Jr). The son sees a career in football, while the father sees a career in business and education. Thus, this first conflict is caused by their different views on history, present, and the future. The failure of the father to consider his son’s view, and the son’s inability to appreciate his father’s view make it hard for them to reconcile their differences.
Troy created an emotional fence that made it hard for Cory to connect with him. It is the basis for their continued conflict. Cory does everything he can to earn his father’s affection. Cory wonders why, despite all the effort he puts, his father never likes him. Troy responds by telling him, “Liked you? Who the hell say I got to like you? What law is there say I got to like you?” (Wilson and Seret). Troy believes that he only has a duty to provide to his family, but is not obligated to show love, affection, or even appreciation of his son. Cory, initially admiring his father, cannot understand whether he lives to the expectations of his father or not. The fact that he feels a disconnection from Troy and the believe Troy had that to be a man one had to move away from the man who brought him up, makes their relationship more turbulent (Sandra). The conflict is further fueled by the realization that Troy was promiscuous (the habit that he had hated his father for) and had sired a child. He loses the respect and trust he had in Troy. In one of their arguments, Troy hits Cory at the climax of the conflict. It pushes Cory to make the decision of moving away from home, something that Troy himself did when he could no longer stand his father. He shows his utmost hatred for his father when he refuses to come to his burial. Until the death of Troy, Cory and his father had enacted the scenario between Troy and his father although none of them realized it.
It is thus clear that the primary conflicts between Troy and Cory are their interpretation of the past, their different views on the future on career choices, their moral inclinations, and their interpersonal relationship. The main problem is the inability of Troy to advance in his view of the world as time changed, and his determination to see his son live the life that Troy thinks is best for Cory. Troy’s inability to open up to his son further served to alienate him and make him resent his father. Because Troy had elected a strong fence around himself emotionally and mentally, the deterioration of his relationship with Cory was only bound to happen, with Cory taking the same decision like the one made by his father several years earlier.