Recognizing 'Fences' - Troy Maxson's identity politics

Term Paper, 2006

10 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Endowing Identity

3 Troy and Cory
3.1 Career Advancement
3.2 The Economics of Duty
3.3 The Consequences of Misrecognition

4 Conclusion

5 Works Cited

1 Introduction

August Wilson’s 1985 play Fences focuses on black urban life in the late 1950s and deals with intergenerational conflicts, racial issues, distress, and the search for one’s identity and position in life. The play’s protagonist, Troy Maxson, has been turned into a loud-mouthed, hard-hearted, and occasionally “crude and almost vulgar” (Wilson 1987, 1) oppressor as a result of the hardships of Afro-American life in the first half of the 20th century and the experiences of his youth; Troy abandoned home at the age of fourteen, after being beaten up by his sadistic father for having watched him rape a thirteen-year-old girl.

This paper is intended to examine the identity politics in Fences and will focus on the conflict between Troy and his second son Cory. First, it will highlight the importance of recognition for the development of human beings according to Charles Taylor’s theory and then show the negative effects of misrecognition and nonrecognition. Secondly, it will show the different phases of Troy’s misrecognition in the play and analyze how this leads to a mutilation of Cory’s personality.

2 Endowing Identity

Troy Maxson’s dominant, almost dictatorial character and his central role in the play are foreshadowed by the cast of characters in the preface:


JIM BONO TROY’s friend

ROSE TROY’s wife

LYONS TROY’s oldest son by previous marriage

GABRIEL TROY’s brother

CORY TROY and ROSE’s son

RAYNELL TROY’s daughter (Wilson 1987, xiii),

The list indicates that all the other main characters are defined by their relationship with Troy. Therefore, he can be clearly described as their “significant other” (George Herbert Mead qtd. in Taylor 1994, 32), an individual who matters to them and who significantly influences their lives and self-evaluation. Troy’s impact on Jim Bono, for example, results from Troy’s “honesty, capacity for hard work, and […] strength” (Wilson 1987, 1) which serves as a paragon for Jim Bono and makes Troy his defining role model. Since all the other members of the Maxson family and Troy’s friend, Jim Bono, seek Troy’s recognition, his failure to meet their need for recognition, especially with regard to Cory and Lyons, has dramatic effects on their identities.

The need for proper recognition derives from the close connection between recognition and identity. One’s identity, which can be defined as the individual characteristics by which a person is known, is constructed through the dialogical relations with one’s significant others. In consideration of the fact that “[d]ue recognition”, as Charles Taylor puts it, “is not just a courtesy we owe people […] [but] a vital human need” (Taylor 1994, 26), misrecognition – the incorrect perception of individuals – and nonrecognition – the absence of acknowledgment – can have detrimental consequences on an individual and can cause mutilation and injury to the person’s personality.

Misrecognition, for instance, involves the significant others’ (or other people’s) projection of a demeaning image of a person and the internalization of that image by the ‘misrecognized’ person. Furthermore, the internalization induces low self-esteem, distortion, and the acceptance of the image of inferiority,. An example of this kind of process is the role of women in patriarchal societies, such as Muslim countries in the Far East and Middle East. Their role in their social networks and general society is determined by means of religious and social rules and conventions, which subliminally impose an image of inferiority onto them. The internalization and acceptance of the image inhibit them from aspiring basic human rights, such as liberty, equality, suffrage, or career advancement (Taylor 1994, 25-26).

3 Troy and Cory

3.1 Career Advancement

Having established the importance of proper recognition for individuals, this essay will now turn to Fences in order to show the effects of Troy Maxson’s recognition or rather the absence of it on his second son Cory. Even before Cory Maxson’s first actual stage appearance in scene three of act one, the seventeen-year-old high school student ‘experiences’ misrecognition. When Rose informs Troy during one of his ritual Friday “payday drinking night fests” (Snodgrass 2004, 46) that their son has been recruited by a college football team and a recruiter from North Carolina will soon arrive to talk to Troy, Troy immediately denounces his son’s dream of attending college to pursue a higher education – an opportunity which was not available to Troy – by referring to it deprecatingly as “football stuff […] [that] ain’t gonna get him nowhere” (Wilson 1987, 8). In addition to devaluing Cory, Tory suggests that Cory would be better to “get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living” (Wilson 1987, 8).

In this scene, both Rose and Jim Bono take Cory’s side and try to explain to Troy that a future for his son might lie in secondary education and professional sports as there are more chances for advancement for Afro-American athletes – and Afro-American people in general – due to the social changes of the 1950s. Albeit “the hot winds of change […] had not yet begun to blow full” (Wilson 1987, xviii) by 1957 the racial segregation of public education facilities and public transport had been outlawed by the decisions of the U.S Supreme Court in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka and Browder vs. Gayle respectively. The latter being a result of Rosa Park’s refusal to surrender her seat on a bus for a white person and the so-called Montgomery Bus Boycott (cf. Heideking 2006, 304-306).

3.2 The Economics of Duty

Although Troy wants Cory to succeed in life (cf. Wilson 1987, 39-40), he has some difficulties accepting the social changes of the time that have opened the doors for Cory which were firmly closed for Troy forty years ago when he came North or even twenty years ago when he was released from jail. His resentment of these changes, which can be seen as a result of maladjustment to them, usually leads to uncontrolled, “destructive impulses” (Wolfe 1999, 63) that reflect negativly on his son’s identity. Like any other seventeen-year-old teenager, Cory longs for his father’s approval and recognition, which are harshly denied in the play each time Cory pleads for it. For example, when Cory enquires whether Troy’s harsh treatment in his upbringing results from the fact that he doesn’t like him, Troy asks his son: “Who the hell say I got to like you? What law is there say I got to like you? […] [I]t’s my duty to take care of you. I owe a responsibility to you! […] I ain’t got to like you […] [L]iking your black ass wasn’t part of the bargain” (Wilson 1987, 38).


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Recognizing 'Fences' - Troy Maxson's identity politics
University of Tubingen
PS II Contemporary US Drama: August Wilson
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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469 KB
This paper deals with identity politics in August Wilson's play 'Fences'. It establishes the importances of proper recogntion according to Charles Taylor and G.H. Mead and links it Troy Maxson's behavior in regard to his son Cory in 'Fences'
Recognizing, Fences, Troy, Maxson, Contemporary, Drama, August, Wilson, pittsburgh, century cycle, USA, corey, george herbert mead
Quote paper
Johannes Steffens (Author), 2006, Recognizing 'Fences' - Troy Maxson's identity politics, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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