Autonomous Independence in Fences Thesis

Fences” August Wilson

Breaking Out: Autonomous Independence in Fences

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One of the principle characters of August Wilson’s play entitled Fences is Cory Maxson, whose role as the son of the play’s protagonist, Troy Maxson (Gilmour 2010), is fairly integral to the thematic issues that the author chooses to demonstrate within this dramatic work. As one of Troy’s several sons, Cory represents the distinct ideology that is fairly endemic to all parents — that of their offspring having a better life than they had. However, there are a number of similarities between Cory and Troy that seemingly suggest that Cory may be fated to incur a fate that is painfully similar to that of his father — a fact that Troy is dutifully cognizant of and tries his hardest to prevent. Wilson imbues both of these characters with a powerful sense of responsibility and self-identity that revolves about their conception of asserting their manhood through an autonomous independence. Cory eventually comes to personify this autonomous independence, and in doing so unwittingly leads himself into a position that could not be more similar to that of his father.

The similarities between Cory and Troy go beyond mere genetics and have to do with a commonality of circumstances that virtually no one can deny. They were both proficient at athletics at a young age (Troy played baseball professionally while teenage Cory is a football star) and both had difficult relationships with their fathers — who they perceived to be one of the primary impediments to their attainment of manhood and independence. Additionally, they both had physical conflicts with their fathers that resulted in both of them leaving home to assert their independence, which Cory does by eventually joining the Marines. His need to leave his father to become autonomous as his own man is alluded to in the following quotation.

Cory: The whole time I was growing up…living in this house…Papa was like a shadow that followed you everywhere. It weighed on you and sunk you’re your flesh. Everywhere I looked, Troy Maxson was staring back at me…hiding under the bed…in the closet. I’m just saying I’ve got to find a way to get rid of that shadow, Mama (Wilson 1986).

This quotation, which Cory delivers shortly after telling his mother that he does not want to attend his father’s funeral, indicates how much Cory believes his father to be a negative presence in his life. It also demonstrates how one of the defining traits of Cory’s characterization is his desire to remove himself from the “shadow” of his father, so that he can assert his own independence. Cory believes that by physically distancing himself from his father, which he did by joining the army and is attempting to do by telling his mother he does not want to attend his funeral, that he can figuratively distance himself from his father’s mediocrity. The irony, of course, is that he is merely repeating moves that Troy himself made to separate himself from his own father, which of course makes Cory even more similar to Troy.

Another point of contention between Troy and Cory for nearly the duration of Fences is the obstinacy with which Cory chooses to pursue his dream of playing football. His desire to do so, unwittingly or not, mirrors Troy’s ambition to play baseball professionally in the Negro leagues. However, Troy is convinced that Cory’s attempts to pursue sports will only make him disappointed with the outcome, similar to Troy’s own disappointment with the end of his baseball career — which concluded before national integration of professional baseball. However, a major part of Cory’s characterization is the fierce independence of his will, which he asserts by defying his father’s wishes for him to get a job after school and continuing to practice with his football team. The following quotation demonstrates this facet of Cory’s character.

Cory: The Braves got Hank Aaron and Wes Covington. Hank Aaron hit two home runs today. That makes forty-three.

Troy: Hank Aaron ain’t nobody (Wilson 1986).

This quotation underscores how important it is for Cory to defy his father in the former’s attempts at being independent of him. He is trying to prove to his father that African-Americans can play sports profitably and professionally in the United States now, which is why he should continue with his propensity towards football. By striving to defy his father, however, Cory is merely acting just like him. He is engaging himself in a sport like Troy did, and he is also at odds with his father and trying to assert his independence from him, just like Troy did with Cory’s grandfather. Virtually all of Cory’s attempts to become autonomous and do what he wants to do — and not what his father wants — inevitably lead him to become more and more like Troy.

The assertion of autonomy and an independence of action and spirit is one of the central themes in August Wilson’s Fences. Cory personifies many of these attributes, which can be demonstrated in his decision to defy his father and to continue pursuing a career in sports, and in his leaving home (and his father’s influence) to ultimately join the armed forces. However, this assertion of manhood by removing oneself from the influence of one’s father was acted out by Troy year’s prior, all of which means that Cory’s attempts at independence are only linking him closer and closer to who he wants independence from — Troy. It is up to Cory to break the cycle of mediocrity and become better than his father, but he is acting just like him.


Gilmour, Nathan. “Troy Maxson Goes To Heaven.” The Christian Humanist. 2010. Web.

Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume. 1986. Print.

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