The Significance of Songs in August Wilson's Fences

"Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in," offers the sage Bono one afternoon during his usual bonhomie with fellow refuse collector Troy Maxson. The seemingly minor line encompasses the entire leitmotif of August Wilson's play, Fences. It is a play that takes place in a time, as the author says, that is "turbulent, racing, dangerous, and provocative" and during which the collective fences of society begin to dissolve. It is a time that will leave many, like Troy, confused about the changing nature of family and country. Wilson utilizes song to reveal the nature of the emotional and physical fences, which serve to plague or protect the characters in Fences. The songs, which permeate the lives of the Maxsons, reveal how Troy imposes his fences on his wife and children, and how these characters react to such fences.

Wilson's use of song reveals much about the characters and their relationships with one another. "Jesus be a fence all around me everyday," sings Rose one morning while hanging up the laundry. She sings to be "protected as [she] travels on [her] way." As the first instance of song in the play, this song helps to reveal...

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