In the play Fences, August Wilson illustrates how the sins of fathers lead to the deterioration of father-son relationships. As a result of these ruined relationships, sons often fail to reach their fullest potential in life or realize their dreams—dreams that they might have realized given healthy and nurturing fatherly support. However, Cory manages to forgive his father’s sins with forgiveness and August Wilson not only details the damage that is left in the wake of troubled father-son relationships, he also reveals the positive transformation that can occur when a young man is able to release his anger in the form of forgiveness and reclaim his life with a new and stronger sense of self.
In Fences, this ability to release and even become positively transformed by anger is a rare occurrence, because the story centers on a black family that struggles against tremendous economic and social challenges within the racist America of the 1950s. This setting is important because it serves as a major cause of the frustration that plagues the story's male characters. For example, at the head of this family is Troy Maxon, the son of a sharecropper whose farm sinks into debt. Thus, a deep sense of failure causes Troy's father to drive Troy's mother away and to turn into "the devil himself". In telling his story , Troy says, "All (daddy's) women run off and left him. He wasn't good for nobody....My daddy sent me out to do some plowing and I tied up Greyboy and went to fooling around with Joe Canewell's daughter....Now I thought (Daddy) was mad because I ain't done my work. But I see he was chasing me off so he could have the gal for himself" (52). Through his many amoral acts, Troy's father not only passes on his own race-related frustrations to Troy, but also his inability to face life's challenges with self-respect. At the same time, however, Troy's father does manage to take responsibility for his family, "My daddy ain't had them walking blues!....He stayed right there with his family. But he was just as evil as he could be" (51). His father's inner "evil" ways reminds Troy to leave home at age 14 and to plunge himself into adulthood, "And right there the world suddenly got big. And it was a long time before I could cut it down to where I could handle it" (53). Ironically, as Troy grows into a man far from his father, the duality of character that exists in his father takes root within Troy. For example, Troy values family and home, but has extra-marital affairs. What's more, he embraces the work ethic, but only wants his sons to strive for “blue-collar” jobs because they are black.
Throughout the novel, August Wilson continues to propose that even the most negative features of father-son legacies can be stabled by the positive. For example, Troy's early break from his father allows him to venture into the world with his own dreams—in this case, to turn his substantial talent in baseball into a career that will give him a better life than that of his father. However, like his father, Troy allows himself to quickly become beaten down by racism, frustrated and eventually annoyed by the fact that the athletic opportunities for black men are non-existent. Despite these inner demons, Troy goes on to create a home and family of his own. Years later, when Troy's wife Rose suggests that he should get over his anger because he is too old for baseball anyway, Troy replies, "What do you mean too old? Don't come telling me I was too old. I just wasn't the right color!" (39). Now the father of two boys, Lyons and Cory, Troy still carries the scar of unrealized dreams like a giant chip on his shoulder. Unluckily, this chip prompts him to prevent the dreams of his sons, especially those of Cory. For example, Troy refuses to allow Cory to play football in college and get an education. Arguing with Rose, he says, "I got good sense, woman. I got sense enough not to let my boy get hurt over playing no sports...He's got to make his own way. I made mine" (39). Despite what family members and friends tell him, Troy refuses to allow those opportunities for black athletes have improved since his youth. Irritated, Cory tells his father, "Just cause you didn't have a chance! You just scared I'm gonna be better than you, that's all" (58). Indeed, Cory believes that his improved chances for success will make Troy's own misfortune too hard to bear-an act of selfishness that worsens their father-son relationship in true Maxon family tradition. In addition, Troy's improper relationship with Alberta carries on his own father's legacy of amoral sexual behavior and serves to further distance Troy from his family. Like his father, Troy thinks that the simple act of "standing in the same place for eighteen years" (61) with Rose and the boys has fulfilled his marital and fatherly responsibilities. In a fit of rage, Cory tells Troy that he doesn't agree: "You ain't never gave me nothing! You ain't never done nothing but hold me back...I used to tremble every time you called my name...And Mama, too...she's scared of you" (86-87). Like his own father, Troy uses verbal and physical means to get his way—behavior that only makes his family afraid of him and, in the process, damages his relationships with each of them. Ultimately, both Troy and his father allow their frustrations about life to derail their family relationships and, in the process, pass along the sins of the father to the son. For example, in telling Cory to choose a life of “blue-collar” work, Troy denies Cory of going after his own dreams. As a result, Cory breaks away from Troy in a fit of rage to join the marines, where he grabs hold of a good military career. Like Troy, Cory leaves his father for good: Troy passes away over the course of Cory's absence, thus leaving much unfinished business between the two men. After Troy's death, Cory's refusal to attend Troy's funeral forces Rose to help Cory realize that he has a choice: To either hate his father or forgive him. Only through forgiveness will Cory banish the heavy load of anger and frustration that keeps him from true happiness. Rose tells him, "You can't be nobody but who you are, Cory. That shadow wasn't nothing but you growing into yourself...Your daddy wanted you to be everything he wasn't" (97). Taking his mother's advice, Cory realizes that the "shadow" of his father doesn't have to be looked at as a negative reflection on his own identity. Instead, he can realize that Troy did the best that he could and that Cory has learned from Troy's mistakes. Thus, with Rose's help, Cory begins a path toward self-healing. Almost instantly, he decides to attend his father's funeral and even teaches his half-sister Raynell the words to a song of remembrance for a dog that Troy once loved: "Hear it ring! Hear it ring! I had a dog his nam +e was Blue" (99). Alongside his family and friends, Cory takes part in the age-old ritual of song, which allows people to remember the best of what one had to offer in life.
This final scene of the story leaves Cory newly determined on forgiving his father and newly aware that forgiveness leads to inner peace. In this style, Cory breaks the destructive pattern of behavior that father has carried on to son for generations. By letting go of his anger, Cory is able to take the best of what Troy had to teach him and leave the rest behind. Cory is even able to honor Troy with his song of remembrance. In this act of self-healing, Cory accepts the parts of his father that he sees in himself and, in the process, discovers a new sense of self—one that is filled with self-acceptance, peace, and hope. Therefore Cory has forgave his father’s sins with forgiveness.