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TThe Impact of Gender Roles in August Wilson’s Fences

Feb 24, 2023 | 0 comments

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Feb 24, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

The play Fences, by August Wilson, is a story of a troubled African-American family living in the 1950s. Focusing on the plight of the Maxsons, a family comprised of a faithful wife (Rose), unfaithful husband (Troy), hardworking son (Cory), lazy son (Lyons) and mentally handicapped brother (Gabriel), Fences explores their lives in an attempt to show some of the trials African-American families faced during the 1950s. The central plot of the play concentrates on Troy Maxson, the alcoholic, cheating husband who is stuck living in his past baseball glory days, and his attempt to earn a living and be a successful father. Although the play revolves primarily around Troy, Troy’s wife Rose is arguably just as important to the purpose of the play, if not more. Hossein Pirnajmuddin and Shirin Sharar Teymoortash make the argument that the “spaces” in the fence Troy Maxson constructs around his house throughout the play are a metaphor for the different geographical, historical, socio-economic, racial, political, psychological, and linguistic ‘spaces’ that exist between the Caucasian and African-American people of the time period. While Pirnajmuddin and Teymoortash make a good point in pointing out the different ‘spaces’ separating the races, I believe they left out a particularly important ‘space’; gender. Gender is a ‘space’ in the play that even separates those of the same race. While Troy does experience many hardships due to his race, Rose’s aspirations were limited even more by her gender, a gender that prevented her from even considering the limited opportunities that Troy had.

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Rose’s gender ultimately determines what she can and cannot do. In the 1950s, women were restricted to domestic activities such as raising families and housekeeping. Due to the social idealogy in that period, it would be seen as strange for Rose to have a profession like the men did. Author Sheri Metzger writes in her critical essay “An Essay on Fences” that “women were restrained by traditional roles and the division of private and public spheres… women primarily functioned in the private sphere of home and domestic chores” (Metzger 1). It is this social mindset that creates a ‘space’ prohibiting Rose from ever doing more than being a housewife. This role that has been set for Rose is evident in the play when she attempts to talk to Troy while he is speaking with a friend and he simply tells her to leave, saying that “this is men talk” (Wilson 1027). By telling her that she is not allowed to talk with them, Troy is further demonstrating that Rose is merely an object, one not nearly important enough to talk to when other things are going on. Unfortunately for Rose (and all women of the 1950s), Troy’s opinion that women are unimportant is held by almost all of the male population, making it impossible for Rose to do anything more than be a housewife.

Rose’s gender forces her to stay in her role of a housewife. In Joseph Wessling’s article “Wilson’s Fences” Rose is described as a person who “personifies unconditional love” (Wessling 124). While this may be true, Rose’s gender gives her no choice but to accept whatever circumstances arise. This is because women of the 1950s were expected to side in favor of their families and husbands, even if their personal opinions differed. Rose tells Troy that at the beginning of their marriage she “took all [her] feelings, [her] wants and needs, [her] dreams … and [she] buried them inside [him]” (Wilson 1062). She is telling Troy and the audience that whatever dreams or aspirations she had were ‘buried’ away when she married Troy. As a wife, Rose’s new responsibilities were focused solely on raising a family and helping Troy. This expectation that a woman should be no more than a housewife leaves a huge gender ‘space’ in the play prohibiting Rose from striving for a better and more successful life.

Rose is forced to accept and excuse Troy when he announces that he has been cheating on her. She does not do this because she loves Troy, because she basically has nowhere else to go. In “Space in August Wilson’s Fences,” Pirnajmuddin and Teymoortash point out how August Wilson “deftly conflates two images, that of an unrepaired fence and that of Troy on the verge of physical and mental breakdown” Pirnajmuddin and Teymoortash 45). The unrepaired fence in this statement represents the irreparable damage Troy has caused to his relationship with Rose. In today’s society, if a women were to come home to a cheating husband and a bastard child, it would be perfectly fine (perhaps even recommended) if she were to divorce him and start anew. For Rose and fellow skeletal muscles. In a study conducted by (), the findings indicated that HRT improves the functions of muscles in women of the 1950s, the same cannot be said. Because of her gender, she must fulfill the role of ‘loving housewife’ that society has set up and stay with Troy. The article also speaks of Troy on “the verge of physical and mental breakdown” (45). If Troy is unable to cope with the ordeal, how must Rose feel about it? After all, it was Troy who had the affair which resulted in a baby, not Rose. If Troy was unable to handle all of the stress that accompanies the predicament he put himself in, Rose must feel even worse. However, she must carry on and fulfill the role her gender gives her or suffer the consequences of being out of the norm. It is this huge gender ‘space’ that forbids Rose from going after what she wants in life and forces her to be a wife who forgives her husband for all of his wrongdoings.

Rose is forced to assimilate into her non-subjective role as a woman. As stated earlier, the role of a woman in the 1950s was merely to be a model housewife and mother. Although skeletal muscles. In a study conducted by (), the findings indicated that HRT improves the functions of muscles in women were allowed to express their opinions, very seldom were they actually considered. This was due to the social standard of the time that men were the ones responsible for making important assessments and decisions for their families. Leslie Orr states in her essay “Gender Role Strain in Selected Plays by August Wilson” that “society expects males to perform well in these roles to be deemed a man” (Orr 1). When Rose is mad at Troy and tells him that he should’ve “stayed in [her] bed” (Wilson 1062), Troy simply continues talking about why having the affair made him feel good. He didn’t seem to care about Rose’s emotions at that point, he was simply interested in justifying the affair, telling her that he’d been “standing on first base for eighteen years” (Wilson 1062) and that he was pretty much bored with her. Rose is unable to voice her opinion effectively in the argument because Troy won’t let her. He is the ‘big man’ of the house and she basically has to accept what he says about the affair. It is this unwilling acceptance due to gender that disallows Rose to make any important decisions or voice her opinion.

Space in August Wilson’s Fences is much more than a simple gap in a fence post. It represents the geographical, historical, socio-economic, racial, political, psychological, linguistic, and gender spaces that minorities in the 1950s had to face. It is the gender ‘space’ that prohibits rose from ever following her dreams or achieving her desires. Because of the gender ‘space’ prevalent in the 1950s, “there is less opportunity for Rose to escape the pressures and responsibilities of life” (Metzger 1). The gender ‘space’ in Fences is arguably the most important boundary in the play, and is responsible for many of the hardships the Maxson breast cancer. Ann has been a staunch Christian since childhood just like the rest of her family goes through.

Works Cited

Metzger, Sheri. “”An Essay on Fences.” Drama for Students. Detroit: Gale. Literature Resource Center. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

Orr, Leslie. “Gender Role Strain in Selected Plays by August Wilson.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Ann Arbor, Michigan. 1997. Print.

Pirnajmuddin, Hossein, and Shirin Sharar Teymoortash. “Space in August Wilson’s Fences.” Studies in Literature and Language 3.2 (2011): 42+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

Wessling, Joseph H. “Wilson’s Fences.” Explicator 57.2 (Winter 1999): 123-127. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 222. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

Wilson, August. Fences. Backpack Literature: Second Edition. Ed. X.J Kennedy, Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. 1024-1079. Print.

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