“The statistics were grim for black Americans in 1960. Their average life span was seven years less than white Americans'. Their children had only half the chance of completing high school, only a third the chance of completing college, and a third the chance of entering a profession when they grew up. On average, black Americans earned half as much as white Americans and were twice as likely to be unemployed.” While major feet’s and court victories were won in the late 1950’s, black Americans were still considered second-class citizens who suffered humiliation, insult, embarrassment, and discrimination. “Many neighborhoods, businesses, and unions almost totally excluded blacks. Just as black unemployment had increased in the South with the mechanization of cotton production, black unemployment in Northern cities soared as laborsaving technology eliminated many semiskilled and unskilled jobs that historically had provided many blacks with work. Black families experienced severe strain; the proportion of black families headed by women jumped from 8 percent in 1950 to 21 percent in 1960. "If you're white, you're right" a black folk saying declared; "if you're brown stick around; if you're black, stay back."”1 August’s Wilson use of fences as a metaphor, in the play with the same name, created a perfect example of the disenfranchisement, marginalization and hardships that African American at that time, and still now, faced. The fence that Troy, the main character, took about most of the book to build around his house serves a surrogate of how the racial segregation he has endured most of this life and the dreams he has be unable to accomplish lead him to build fences around everyone surrounding him. He has been forced to settle, so he expects everyone around him to do the same. The metaphor of “fences” in August Wilson’s play represents the history and legacy of Jim Crow segregation in America, involving, for example, the division between the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball. Fences, however, symbolize much more; it stands for the divisions between Troy and his sons Cory and Lyons, the barrier that separates Troy and his wife Rose due to Troy’s extramarital affair with Alberta. Lastly, it represents the anger and pain Troy has allowed to build up within himself in a direct result of racism throughout his life affecting the intrapersonal relationships within the household he runs. It will be discussed in this essay how August Wilson used the concept of fences to detailed both racism and the intrapersonal relationships of African Americans during the 1960’s in his award winning play. Fenced: Troy and His Dreams
Jim Crow laws, named after a character in minstrel shows, existed between the 1890s into the 1960s “in many arenas of public life, in many states and cities both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line.” 2These laws mandated racial segregation of public schools, public places and transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants and drinking fountains, as well as sports and the U.S. military. The color line that existed in baseball began with the post-Civil War prevailing beliefs about race and civil rights, which were not much different from the beliefs about race and civil rights before the Civil War. While slavery had been outlawed, nothing much else has changed with the white American’s of the south constantly and overtly feeling the need to keep the Negro “in his place.” “Negro League players are often portrayed as victims of baseball’s color line, which, predating the establishment of Major League Baseball, began in 1867 and fell apart gradually from 1947 to 1959.” 3The racial segregated Jim Crow laws were so prevalent that it was shock that white Americans even knew about the Negro league and their greats. While the Major Leagues never formally banned blacks from joining their rosters, they made the process so difficult that blacks were easily discouraged or didn’t try at all. And...
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Wilson, August, and August Wilson. Fences. London: Penguin, 1988. Print.
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