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Death's Fences essay
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Wilson wrote Fences in 1983 not only to address these concerns but also to prove to himself that he could raise a single character to a much grander scale. Initially he had no plans to write this riveting domestic drama, which ultimately won the most honors of any play in Broadway history, including a Tony for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, having already completed Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Jitney!, he had intended to follow his own strategy, which was next to write Joe Turner's Come and Gone and then go on to complete The Piano Lesson. But Wilson listened to the advice of his circle of theatre professionals who encouraged him to bring some variety to the then well-populated and unwieldy patterns of construction familiar from Jitney! and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. As a means of motivating the playwright to try his skills in other directions, they challenged him to write "a more commercial, conventional play with one main character and others supporting him" ( Watlington110). Such a play would test Wilson's skills at vivifying a complex character as successfully as he had drawn the enigmatic, one-dimensional figures of his earlier plays. While still basking in the confidence gained from the success of Ma Rainey, Wilson accepted this challenge, assuring his chorus of theatrical cheerleaders that he could write such a play, but lingering doubt surfaced when he was alone with only a pen, a pad, and his thoughts. He remembered thinking, "After telling people that I knew how to write that kind of play, I asked myself "Do I really know how to write that kind of play? So I wrote Fences in answer to the challenge that I'd given myself" ( Watlington110). And just as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom quieted those who doubted Wilson as a serious playwright, Fences silenced those who feared his dramatic range had become predictable and limited In this attempt to write a better play than Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Wilson decided to turn to the black family unit for his material. With the natural unity provided by the family structure, he could more easily focus upon a single character rather than divide the play's emphasis among a gathering of different personalities. eventually the domestic drama set in "a middle American urban industrial city" ( Fxviii) generated a protagonist as full-blown as any of Shakespeare's tragic heroes or villains. Troy Maxson, the tyrant of a father and the doting yet unfaithful husband, commands a full range of emotions from pity to disgust. His family and all other characters pale beside his boisterous elocutions and selfish codes of behavior.
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As was the case with each of his previous history chronicles, Fences, set in 1957, grew out of Wilson's desire to revisit the past in an effort to reexamine the behavior of blacks in various conflicted positions. Yet unlike Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences does not hearken as far back as Africa. Instead, the play presents a portrait of three generations of black men whose roots converge in a brutish sharecropper of the Reconstruction era. His son, Troy Maxson, is a pivotal force; he is a fifty-three-year old garbage collector of the late 1950s who still can recall ugly images of life under the iron rule of a frustrated, defeated father of the early 1900s. At the same time, Troy tries the best way he knows how to direct the course of his own son's life away from the negative influence of the boy's ancestors. Here, Wilson is concerned with a more immediate cultural heritage--one that involves voices from the past not as far removed as one's African ancestors but relatives who exist more immediately in the mind's eye. ...
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