August Wilsons Fences And American Dream English Literature Essay

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America is a society which strives for success in every situation. The constant struggle and desire for power has produced the American Dream - a hope that all Americans should aim to be at the peak of their capability, where they can achieve greatness, earn a lot of money, gain power and respect, and live a comfortable life. They can get a good house, have a happy family and find perfection in their day-to-day life, with lawns trimmed to a certain length and the white picket fence going all around a person's land. It is the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence that drives all Americans forward, with generations wanting to achieve more than the last generation could. This natural competition has transferred even into the smallest of issues, even in the competition between neighbours to have a nicer car, or more impressive Christmas decorations on the front lawn. The American Dream does not seem to encourage hindering others or sabotage of other's dreams, but inevitably when there is competition there is envy and rivalry can get out of hand. Nonetheless, ideally an American citizen can aim high and with the right persistence, succeed in a variety of aspects of life.

There is a theory that says baseball is a mirror to the American Dream. John Thorn is quoted often, as he sums it up nicely - 'baseball has become "the great repository of national ideals, the symbol of all that [is] good in American life: fair play (sportsmanship); the rule of law (objective arbitration of disputes); equal opportunity (each side has its innings); the brotherhood of man (bleacher harmony); and more" ' [1] Other sports such as American Football does not have the same equality, as all players have to constantly run and chase for the ball rather than having a certain, equal opportunity to step up and take a swing at the ball.

In August Wilson's Fences, the main character is an avid player and true fan of baseball. Troy Maxson is the father of a black family living in a small house, and works as a garbage man. Unlike in Death of a Salesman where Willy Loman finds that the American Dream drives him forward to aim higher and hope for better, Troy seems to have given up on the opportunities that the American Dream claims to offer. Based on Wilson's own stepfather [2] , Troy was kicked out of home at a young age, found work where he could but regularly stole and got put in jail for 15 years in punishment of his crimes. In this time he learnt the sport and found that he had a natural talent for it, so on his release he pursued a career in the leagues, but found it harder than he expected.

"… For the immigrants of Europe, a dream dared and won true.

The descendants of African slaves were offered no such welcome or participation. They came strong, eager, searching. The city rejected them… in quiet desperation and vengeful pride, they stole, and lived in pursuit of their own dream. That they could breathe free, finally, and stand to meet life with the force of dignity and whatever eloquence the heart could call upon." [3] 

America was a lot less welcoming to those of African origin than the Europeans. After the slave trade finished, black people found themselves doing menial work, struggling to turn over enough money to survive. Segregation was everywhere, in schools, restaurants and even in sports, such as baseball. A special Negro League was created to separate the sport between blacks and whites, who could play in Major League Baseball. While many of the players were just as talented if not more, this separation meant that it was less respected and those who did make it to the top of the Negro League still did not have the same status as they would have had they been from a white background.

Troy is one such player who found himself trapped by the lack of opportunity in the sport's division. To play baseball professionally would help greatly towards Troy's completion of the American Dream, but he never got the chance. It took a long time before a black player, Jackie Robinson, made it into the Major Leagues, and slowly the leagues became integrated, but not in time for Troy's character to achieve this. Others in the play tell him he 'just come along too early' but he retaliates - '… if you could play ball then they ought to have let you play. Don't care what colour you were.' [4] This is completely valid and should be the case, but in the time that the play was set people simply did not see it this way. Blacks arrived with 'two strikes' [5] already, as white Americans felt that they did not deserve to be a part of the society and so were waiting constantly for a reason to remove them. Troy fears this constantly and refuses to go down without a fight, telling his son 'don't you strike out' [6] .

Baseball also reflects the American Dream within Troy's life through the status of each base around the field. To achieve the American Dream would be to get a full home run, with each base being a stage of life where something has been achieved. Troy sees that he has reached first base, his home and family. In baseball this is easy to get, for as long as the ball is hit a decent distance, a player can get to first without too much of a difficulty. To get to second base is harder; from batting it takes a bigger hit, a more impressive feat of strength and determination, and running as far as possible. Troy's second base is his affair, saying 'I stood on first base for eighteen years and I thought ... well, goddamn it ... go on for it!' [7] By risking running to second base, would be to risk being caught out and losing, but without running fourth base could never be reached, so Troy fully understood that he had to go for it. By bad decision and aiming wrong he ends up losing the love of his wife and his family falls more apart. Troy, like most of America, understands that he must at least try for the next base as daunting as it seems, otherwise he will never proceed.

Where Troy is defeated by his lack of success and is consumed with bitterness about being trapped in his own job without little hope of a promotion, his son Cory is still full of hope for the prospects that the Dream can bring. 'Fences is a lesson in hope' [8] and this can be seen through the younger character, who wants more from life than his father got, 'I don't want to be Troy Maxson. I want to be me.' [9] Cory has been offered a scholarship for a better education due to his sporting skills, and Troy is convinced that it won't be a benefit, as he is beaten down by the failings that he has seen in his life. It is arguable whether Troy is just being protective of his son, not wanting him to lose in life like he has done, or whether he is jealous, as he missed out on such an opportunity while segregation was still so prominent. It would be interesting to see what happened to Cory much later in life, to see whether he did make it, as his character is so full of hope and optimism for what America could do for him. He is fully dedicated to the theory of the American Dream, and strives for better for himself and those around him.

The play calls into question whether the American Dream is truly achievable, and if so, perhaps it is only possible for a certain group of people - surely the Dream is much more accessible by a privileged person who is not pre-judged by the colour of their skin. Fences questions whether the Dream is really just a dream, filled with a fruitless pursuit of happiness that one will have to wake up from eventually. The Forefathers seem to have been idealists, striving for equality and believing in success for all, whereas a realist would understand that not everyone can win, just as one team must lose in a game of baseball.

Those who played in the Negro Leagues were stunted for sporting opportunities and found themselves looking abroad for better positions. As America is seen as the 'land of the free' and a place where anyone can achieve their dreams, it seems odd that black people found themselves looking elsewhere for their chance of happiness. They seem to depend too much on the word 'American' rather than 'Dream'. After reading this play and looking into the context, I believe that people should find their own dream and not depend on the external social influences that drive us to be something that we don't want to be, such as the perfect lawn length. Troy is continuously trying to put up his fence in the garden, but as he never finishes it this shows how he never bought into the American way enough to push for the perfection that they seem to work for. Just like his fence, his dreams were unfinished, and so his life ended too early before recovery. The play teaches us to stop talking about what we want to do and what we haven't achieved, but to finally run for second base and simply hope that we make it.