This play in book form has been reviewed by Focus on the Family Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine.
Troy Maxson is a black man in the 1950s. He works for a sanitation company. As the play opens, he discusses with friend and co-worker Bono how unfair it is that black men can’t drive the garbage trucks. He has spoken to the man in charge, even though it may put his job at risk. Many of Troy’s behaviors, values, decisions — and therefore, his speeches in the play — reflect the turbulent, changing times for people of color.
Troy was once a great baseball player, but his success went largely unnoticed because it came before blacks could play in ball leagues. He grew up with a selfish father who drove all women, including his mother, away. When Troy finally left home, he had to steal to survive. He accidentally killed a man and ended up doing 15 years in prison.
He clashes with his sons, especially his youngest, Cory, because he believes that a man owes his family responsibility, not love. Cory wants to play football and even has a chance to meet with a scout. Troy does all he can to thwart the boy’s chances because his experiences tell him it’s a hopeless dream for a black man. He pushes his son further and further away with his lack of support and his insistence that the boy follow a more traditional path.
Troy is married to Rose, who is 10 years younger. Marrying Troy, she hoped for joy and stability after a chain of abusive relationships. What she discovered is Troy’s inability to love. Throughout the play, she urges Troy to work on the fence he’s promised to build for her. To her, a fence symbolizes security and will keep her family close. To Troy, a fence is stifling. He demonstrates this when he has an affair and gets the other woman, Alberta, pregnant. When he breaks the news to Rose, he explains it by saying that being with Alberta gave him the chance to be another person, free from his real-life pressures and responsibilities.
Readers most often see Troy sitting in his yard drinking with Bono, sometimes half-heartedly working on the fence. He’s visited by his older son, Lyons, an aspiring musician who drops by on paydays to ask for money. Gabriel, Troy’s brother, stops by as well. He was injured in combat and believes himself to be the archangel Gabriel. He tells stories of sitting with St. Peter and offers warnings about the coming judgment. Troy counters by telling stories of his own heated discussions with Death and the Devil.
Rose doesn’t leave Troy when she learns about Alberta’s pregnancy, but she stops talking to him. Alberta dies in childbirth, and Troy brings the baby home. Rose graciously takes the little girl, Raynell, in as her own. Troy ends up driving Cory from home due to his demands and lack of support. He also signs papers to have Gabriel recommitted to an asylum, after having to pick his brother up at the police station a number of times. Troy asks Death to come and fight with him. Troy has a heart attack.
The play ends with the characters reuniting for Troy’s funeral. Raynell, now 7, as well as Rose, Bono and Gabriel are at the house. Cory returns in his Marine uniform, and Lyons comes from the workhouse, where he’s doing time for cashing other people’s checks. When Cory refuses to attend the funeral, still angry at Troy’s treatment of him, Rose gives an impassioned speech about being the best people we can be in life, even when it takes all of our strength. Gabriel blows his trumpet so St. Peter will open the gates for Troy. When no sound comes out, he does a strange dance and cries out. The heavens open wide.
Troy says ignoring a person who did right by you isn’t in the Bible. He says he gets less drunk these days so he can keep watch, since the Bible says to be ever vigilant. Troy tells about a time years ago when he bought some furniture on credit. He still pays regularly, afraid that if he misses a payment the Devil will come back and there will be h— to pay. Troy says he didn’t sell his soul or anything, so he doesn’t care if that man is really the Devil. Rose says he should be concerned because he’ll have to answer to God at judgment.
As Rose does chores, she sings a song asking Jesus to be a fence around her and protect her. Gabriel believes he really is the archangel of the same name. He tells stories about sitting down to breakfast with St. Peter. He says the Devil is no pushover and has hellhounds sniffing at everyone’s heels. But, he adds that there won’t be much of a battle when God gets to waving His judgment sword. Gabriel tells Troy he’s seen Troy’s name in St. Peter’s book. He sings a song about getting ready for the judgment because God is coming down.
Rose tells Troy that she prayed she would bloom in their marriage, but it didn’t take her long to realize nothing would grow in that rocky soil. Troy tells Cory that he (Cory) has the Devil in him. When Gabriel blows his trumpet at the end of the play, nothing happens. Then he cries out, and the heavens open up.
In an effort to avoid his father’s mistakes, Troy tries to be a highly responsible breadwinner and keep his children’s lives on track. His rigidity in this area, coupled with his inability to love well, causes him and his family great heartache. Rose is a loving mother to Cory and kind stepmother to Lyons. When Troy fathers a child with another woman, Rose takes in the little girl as her own.
Words including h—, d–n, p—, s— and a– appear frequently, and black men often call each other the n-word.
Bono warns Troy to stop chasing after Alberta, but Troy ends up getting her pregnant.
Alcohol: Bono and Troy drink alcohol frequently, sometimes in excess.
Death: He talks a lot about Death, as though Death were a person.
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