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In the tradition of tragic heroes such as Oedipus Rex, Willie Loman, and Marcus Brutus, Troy Maxson from August Wilson’s Fences is a noble man with a tragic flaw that leads him down a path ending in ruin. Troy’s hamartia is his stubborn, self-centeredness. He lives in his own little world and views the people in his life as revolving around him. When he ruins Cory’s chance of gaining a football scholarship, he did it because he believed whites wouldn’t let his son play, but the world had changed and Troy stubbornly refused to believe it. It has to be noted that Troy Maxson isn’t a bad man. His actions and speech may come off as cruel and callous but he also has admirable and likeable qualities. He is firmly responsible in his duty towards his family as a provider. He is funny and passionate and listening to him tell stories is hypnotizing. And deep beneath his tough exterior is a man who truly cares about his family but never learnt the right way to show it. The tragedy is that his family only learns about this after until his death and after the negative actions he did that tore his family apart.
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All the people around Troy try to make him realize that the times are changing, and that Cory has more a chance than he of attaining his dream. Troy’s wife Rose tries to explain that, “They got lots of colored boys playing ball now. Baseball and football.” Even Bono tries to convey the same thing to him, “Times have changed, Troy, you just come along too early.” Cory names some current black baseball players to his father, like Hank Aaron. Troy ignores this and says to Cory, “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway.” Cory blames his father of doing this out of resentment, saying, “You just scared I’m gonna be better than you, that’s all.” But Troy says to Rose, “I got sense enough not to let my boy get hurt playing no sports.” It seems that Troy puts an end to Cory’s football dream out of both his own disappointment and his desire to protect his boy. It’s these wrestling of movies inside Troy that make him a complex and tragic character.
That complexity of Troy also manifests from the good and admirable qualities of his personality. Throughout the play it’s easy to feel anger, pity, and respect towards him. Even though Troy pursues the wrong course in trying to help Cory, it’s still apparent that he cares for his son in his fractured way. Troy’s bad relationship with his son can be traced back to his own relationship with his father. Troy despised his father, who was mean and didn’t show any love to him, but kept by his family due to a sense of responsibility, which is molded into Troy’s character. He goes to work everyday to provide for his family even though, but he can’t express the love to them that they crave. Without his good qualities to counterbalance against his bad ones, Troy would just be an evil antagonists intentionally ruining his families lives. But because Troy is made as a tragic hero we can learn more about the experience of living life as a black man, faced with lost opportunities due to discrimination and we can learn a lesson from his failure instead of paint him as a monster.
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Troy’s hamartia prevents him from acknowledging that times have changed. Like Oedipus Rex who came before him, he refuses to see the writing on the wall. Instead of believing what everyone around him is saying, he follows his own misguided path of delusion, ruining his sons dream to play football and go to college. Because of his actions, he builds not just a fence but an impenetrable wall around himself, never opening up to his family. Only at his funeral do his family attain knowledge of his deeper motives and obstacles despite his harmful actions. As Lyons says, “You got to take the crookeds with straights. That’s what Papa used to say.” With Troy there was always the crooked man trying to beat down the straight, and the straight man trying to control the crooked one. This tragic case of hamartia simultaneously destroys his chance of a happy life with his family and opens up a spot for Troy in the long line of tragic heroes..
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