Fences Summary and Analysis of Act I, scene 4


It is two weeks later. The phone rings and Cory picks it up and has a conversation about his football spikes with a friend on the other end of the line. Cory is in a rush to get to the football game, and Rose implores him to clean his room so that his father won’t know he is out watching football. Cory leaves.

Troy and Bono enter talking about Troy’s confrontation with Mr. Rand, his boss at the sanitation department. Troy had gone to the union with his complaint over not being allowed to drive the garbage truck. Bono was sure that Troy would get fired over the incident, but instead Mr. Rand had been forced to let Troy drive the truck. Troy calls Rose and teases her that, “You supposed to come when I call you, woman.” Rose bristles at this and Troy tells her he once had an old dog named Blue that “used to get uppity like that.” Rose reminisces that Troy used to sing about that old dog and that Cory used to sing with him. Troy recounts a verse of the song.

Lyons enters and Troy remarks that there was a story in the paper about how the police had raided Sefus’, one of the clubs that Lyons plays music at. Lyons tells him that he has no part in the gambling going on there, and Troy only remarks, “They got some rogues….” Rose tells Lyons that his daddy got a promotion to drive the truck. Bono remarks that this would be a good thing “if the nigger knew how to drive…Been fighting with them people about driving and ain’t even got a license.” Troy is certain that he’ll be able to work all that out.

Troy is sure that Lyons is about to ask for more money, but instead Lyons pulls out ten dollars and tries to pay Troy back. Troy tells Lyons that he should put the money in the bank and refuses to take it. Rose takes the money instead. Gabriel enters telling everyone they should get ready for the judgment day and gives Rose a rose. Lyons asks Gabe if he’s been chasing hellhounds and fighting the devil and Gabe readily agrees that he has. Lyons tells them he has to get to his gig, and he asks if Troy would like to come down and hear him play. Troy tells him, “I don’t like that Chinese music. All that noise.”

Rose and Troy begin talking about Cory’s recruitment and Lyons wants to know what school he is going to. Troy tells Bono that he went down to the A&P and talked to Cory’s boss and that he knows Cory has been lying to him about getting his old job back. Lyons tells Troy that Cory is growing up and trying to fill his daddy’s shoes. Bono tells the story of his own father, a drifter searching for the “New Land.” He never stayed in one place long enough to actually be a father.

Troy reminisces about his own father. His father was a sharecropper raising eleven kids on his own. He was more worried about “getting them bales of cotton in to Mr. Lubin” than caring for his kids. Troy’s mother left the children when Troy was young and never returned. His father didn’t know how to do anything but farm, and though he was “good for nobody” he always felt a responsibility for his kids and made sure they had a roof over their heads and food in their mouths. Troy tells of how when he turned fourteen he started “sniffing around Joe Canewell’s daughter.” One afternoon, Troy left his plowing early and goes to the river and started “fooling around” with the girl by the river. His father found him and started beating him with leather straps, chasing him away. His father then tried to sleep with the girl himself. Troy saw this and started to fight his father. When his daddy faced him, he "could see why the devil had never come to get him…cause he was the devil himself.” Troy’s father beat him into unconsciousness and his old dog Blue woke him, licking his face. Troy left his house and “right there the world suddenly got big. And it was a long time before I could cut it down to where I could handle it.” Troy says that he lost touch with all his family, except for Gabe, and that he hopes his father is dead.

Lyons tells his father that he didn’t realize he had left home at fourteen years of age. Troy says that, at fourteen, he walked two hundred miles down to Mobile, where he caught a ride with a group of black men heading to Pittsburgh. They all thought they were heading towards freedom, but Troy found that conditions were even worse in Pittsburgh than they had been on the farm. Troy began to steal in order to survive and then was shot in the chest while trying to rob a man. Troy killed the man with a knife and was sent to prison for fifteen years. This is where he met Bono. Troy learned to play baseball in prison and he met Rose several years after that.

Lyons asks Troy to come down to the club and hear his music, but Troy refuses and finds several excuses not to go. After Lyons leaves, Troy puts his arm around Bono and tells him that he has known him longer than anyone else and that “a man can’t ask for no more than that.” Troy tells him that he loves him and Bono gives his love back, and departs.

Cory enters the yard, upset. He throws his football helmet on the ground and tells Rose that Troy went to his coach and told him Cory couldn’t play football or get recruited. The coach wouldn’t let Cory play. Cory is upset because “That was the one chance I had.” Troy and Cory resume their argument over working at the A&P. Cory tells Troy that he is “scared I’m gonna be better than you....” Troy pulls Cory in close and tells him he has made a mistake; “you swung at the ball and didn’t hit it. That’s strike one…Don’t you strike out!”


This scene begins and ends with confrontation. The first confrontation is a fruitful one for Troy and his family while the final one further destroys the domestic threads holding the family together. Troy and Bono enter the yard recounting how Troy stood up to his boss, Mr. Rand, and has now become the first African American garbage truck driver in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. This is a good thing for the family since Troy will be able to work longer and bring in more pay. In a way, Troy can finally feel that his persistence in standing up to the unseen forces of the white world is now paying off for him like it never did during his baseball career.

Gabe, Lyons, and Rose join Troy in the yard and comprise his audience for the celebration. After speaking of his promotion, Troy moves on to a different story. He begins to recount the story of his father and how he became independent at the age of fourteen. He proudly tells the assembled group of his father’s dedication to his family, even though he was a mean and bitter man. But his relationship with his father ended when his father had caught him having sex with a young girl and chased Troy away, only so that he could have her for himself. Troy fights his father, is beaten badly, and leaves home to begin his journey up north. Troy proudly feels as though he took what was best from his father – his sense of loyalty and dedication to his family. The irony is that Troy also has taken his father's bitterness and cruelty. It is not entirely clear if Troy realizes this.

Critics have argued that Fences is a story of manhood in modern America. Troy Maxson is meant to represent the African American experience of manhood, the contradictions and flaws inherent in this masculine process. There is first the question of the creation of the man; in Troy’s experience, this is a fundamentally violent operation. It is meant to symbolize the birth of the self; Wilson portrays the African American creation of self as a process of violence no different in the 1950’s than it had been for eighteenth and nineteenth century slaves.

The second stage of manhood is the continual way in which the African American man is measured against the ideal of the American Dream, an ideal that becomes increasingly materialistic during the middle decades of the twentieth century and increasingly illusory as well. This is another way to read Cory and Troy’s conversation regarding the TV in the previous scene. Troy sees Cory accepting the idea that the accumulation of stuff creates desirable social status for the individual. Troy is deeply skeptical of this even though he implicitly understands it (he encourages Bono to buy his wife a refrigerator).

The solution to these problems of manhood, according to Troy, is to accept the world’s inherent violence and to barricade oneself against any materialistic thing that might inculcate passivity. The final section of Act One is the beginning of Cory’s own passage into manhood. Though Troy recounted earlier how he rejected his father and that previous life, Troy now embodies his father’s previous actions. He goes to attack Cory after Cory angrily returns from the football game, distraught that his coach will not let him play because of Troy’s demand that he be kicked off the team. Rose holds Troy back but he verbally attacks his son, using his baseball language. He tells Cory that he now has one strike (of three), and that he shouldn’t strike out.