Conflict is a recurring central idea in August Wilson’s Fences. As the sixth instalment of the ten-part “Pittsburgh Cycle”, Wilson was keen on the African-American experience and as a voice for the disenfranchised. More specifically, race relations topped the list of topical issues discussed during the era in which the play is set (Menson-Furr, 2013). It is, thus, the primary source of the conflict witnessed throughout the play, even though it also has some unanticipated origins. The protagonist, Troy Maxson, is dedicated to playing his role as a provider in his African-American household in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Conflict seems to revolve around him even as he struggles to establish a close relationship with his wife Rose, sons (Lyons and Cory) and close friend Bono. It is ostensible from the onset that Troy has turbulent emotional experiences which signal his internal conflict. Wilson uses Troy’s conflict with himself to drive other elements in the story and further develop the play.
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Troy’s internal conflict originates from his lived experience in a society heavily steeped in racism. He initially dreamed of becoming a professional athlete but soon realized this was a far-fetched goal. Troy had to contend with race as a key determinant of an individual’s success in life during his time and the limited opportunities available for African-Americans. Thus began the formation of a set of beliefs fixated on struggle as a way of life and the absence of alternatives for African-Americans seeking to support their families (Headley, 2016, p. 67).
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These beliefs are deeply embedded in Troy’s psyche and set in motion a series of events linked to his internal conflict. Troy attempts to force his views on his family members and insists that his outlook is the only practical explanation for their current state. In reality, Troy struggles within himself to come to grips with his failures earlier on in life which negatively impacts his relationship with other family members. Both Troy and Lyons are going through a rough patch in their relationship, obviously stemming from their different outlooks in life. While Troy has internalized his experiences as a young man in the era of segregation, Lyon is living in a new age where it is now possible to realize the proverbial “American Dream” owing to equal opportunities.
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Due to his experiences earlier on in life, Troy morphs into a pessimist who fails to see anything good coming out his present circumstance. Since he was unsuccessful in his quest of becoming a star athlete, he strongly believes that all dreams are not practicable and choose to advice those around him to settle for less. Although deeply affected by his failures, Troy internalizes this experience to mean that success only comes to a select few in society. His internal conflict sees him settle for life as a garbage collector and strongly believes that racial discrimination will always be a determining factor for the progress made by African Americans. Troy’s defeatist attitude leads him to believe that Cory cannot become a professional footballer, drastically reducing any chance he had of proceeding to collage: “They gonna send a recruiter by to talk to you. He’ll tell you he ain’t talking about making no living playing football.” (1.1.70). Similarly, Troy’s internal conflict is the primary source of the altercation he has with Lyons regarding his future aspirations. Lyons believes that his purpose in life is to become a musician and excel in his craft. Yet, Troy fails to play the role of a supportive parent and believes that his son is blinded by optimism and stands no chance of becoming a musician. Wilson uses this conflict to develop the theme of hopes that all individuals have when faced with uncertainty.
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Although it is plausible to consider that Troy’s internal conflict is a negative attribute that impacts other characters, it is clear that his intentions are noble and only does so to protect his family. Troy’s conflict with himself is often manifested in his blatant expression of his opinion about controversial matters that seem to drive a wedge between him and his loved ones (Menson-Furr, 2013). For instance, Lyons readily assumes that Troy is an unsupportive parent. However, Troy’s nonchalance in addressing his sons passion of becoming a musician is done out of love. He seeks to protect them from future disappointments that would result from an unequal society. Rose understands the internal conflict which her husband grapples with and supports him throughout their marriage. She is steadfast in defusing any tensions that may arise from Troy’s internal state of being and treats him with compassion. Rose believes in her husband and son, even when she discovers that he fathered a child with his deceased erstwhile lover. Nonetheless, Troy’s conflict soon catches up with him when he attributes his affair to stress and anxiety since Rose stood by while experiencing similar emotions.
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In conclusion, Wilson uses Troy’s conflict with himself to drive other elements in Fences and further develop his plot. Troy’s internal conflict originates from the racial discrimination he experienced in his formative days which pushes him over the edge, which makes him a bitter pessimist. Still, he intends to protect his family from the disappointments he faced and the anguish that followed.