August Wilson did not name his play, Fences, simply due to the melodramatic actions that take place in the Maxson household, but rather the relationships that bond and break because of the “fence”. The “fence” serves as a structural device because the character’s lives are constantly changing during the construction of the fence. The dramatic actions in the play strongly depend on the building of the fence in the Maxson’s backyard. Fences represents the metaphorical walls or fences that the main characters are creating around themselves in order to keep people in or vice versa. The title may seem straightforward, but in actuality it is a powerful symbol which can either have positive or negative meanings. The title also describes the entirety of the play.
The “fence” most obviously seen throughout the play portrays protection. Rose creates a personal “fence” by singing a song seeking protection from whatever is on her way. “Jesus, be a fence around me every day. Jesus, I want you to protect me as I travel on my way” (21). Also, the fact that Rose wants the fence built adds to the meaning of her character because she sees the fence as something positive and necessary. Bono observes that Rose wants the fence built to hold her family together. “Some people build fence to keep people in… and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you” (61). The “fence” is a symbolization of Rose’s love and her desire for a fence which shows that Rose represents love and nurturing. Also, the “fence” shows Troy protecting himself form Death telling him to come when he’s ready. “See now… I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I’m gonna build a fence around what belongs to me. And I want you to stay on the other side. You stay over there until you’re ready for me” (77).
In vice versa, the “fence” also portray separation. Troy creates a personal “fence” that keeps people out by neglecting his two sons which eventually draw away from him and cheating on his wife with a woman named Alberta. Troy’s lack of commitment to finishing the fence that Rose wants put up represents his lack of commitment in his marriage. He doesn’t understand that Rose wants to keep the family close because he never truly had a close family. He becomes a womanless man. “From right now… this child got a mother. But you a womanless man” (79). Troy pushes Lyons away by refusing to hear him play his “Chinese music” (48). He also damages his relationship with his other son, Cory, by preventing him from playing football and rejecting his only chance to get recruited by a college football team. The “fence” also depicts that Troy is disowning Cory when they get into an argument and Troy kicks him out on to the streets. Troy states that Cory’s things will be on “the other side of that fence” (89). As a result, Troy ends up driving everybody away just like his father. The “fence” acts like a physical divider between the Maxson’s household and the outside world because Troy doesn’t bring anything others would normally have into his house and Rose does not want any outsider intruding her family.
The play, Fences, in conclusion acquires many interpretations of the “fence” that is mentioned variously. Despite there only being one physical fence, it represents many figurative fences throughout the play. The “fence” is signified as having both positive and negative connotations.