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Baseball Mythology in August Wilson's Fences

Seminar Paper 2011 11 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works

Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Baseball references

3. Black Baseball and the American Dream
3.1. Racial segregation
3.2. Black Baseball and the Negro Leagues

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Wilson said that he “started [his play] Fences with the image of a man standing in his yard with a baby in his arms” (qtd. in DeVries 25). This first picture developed into the Pulitzer Prize winning story of Troy Maxson, a fifty-three-year-old, black garbage collector in Pittsburgh. The play starts 1957 and ends 1965 with the death of Troy. In the play we get an insight into Troy’s life with his wife Rose, his sons Cory and Lyons, his brother Gabriel and his best friend Bono. Troy has to face a lot of challenges. First of all, he has to live in a racist society which denied him to live his dream of being a baseball player. Wang says that “the tragic dimension of the play is delineated by the conflict between characters’ tenacious pursuit of their dreams and an environment which works adversely to prevent them from realizing their dreams” (Wang 63). Furthermore, Troy has to work at a garbage department. His hard job gets him just enough money to nourish his family. Also, in his family he has a lot of problems to deal with, especially with his son Cory, who wants to become a professional football player, but also with his wife Rose. The reason for his problems with Rose is that Troy has an affair with another woman, Alberta, and impregnated her.[1] So, the story of the life of Troy Maxson is a story about racism, friendship, segregation, family, love, shattered dreams, rejection and of course baseball.

Examining the meaning of baseball in Fences enables us to get a better understanding of Troy’s life, but also of any other African American in that time and even of America then and today. Elias describes this by claiming that baseball is a “revealing metaphor[2] for American society and values” (Elias 8). Grella explains the connection between baseball and mythology as following: “The sport is the nearest thing to a national Rite of Spring that all Americans can celebrate and enjoy; no other activity in our country is so closely linked to ritual and myths” (551).

In Fences there are different subjects connected to baseball: first of all, the setting of the play, but also the structure and the language. Furthermore, Wilson deals with the subject of the American dream of becoming a professional baseball player and trying to realize this dream in a racist society. Additionally, the play is set within the historical context of the Negro Leagues and the Civil Rights Movement.

2. Baseball references

- has an extremely symbolic setting. Troy’s yard is the symbol for a baseball field. It is his playing field.[3] It is moreover possible to split this symbol of his playing field up into a metaphor for a garden, a battlefield and a graveyard/ sacred space (Koprince 349).

“Baseballs playing field itself has been viewed as archetypal – a walled garden, an American Eden marked by youth and timelessness[4]” (Koprince 349).

However, Troy’s baseball field is not the “American Eden” (349) as Koprince describes it, but “a small dirt yard, partially fenced.” Troy’s baseball equipment is a “bat lean[ed] against a tree” and “a ball made of rags” which hangs from the tree (Wilson Setting). “Wilson accentuates Troy’s exclusion from the American Eden by converting baseball’s mythical garden into an ironic version of paradise” (Koprince 353). Only in the last scene there is an idea of paradise when his daughter Raynell, his child from his affair with Alberta, plants some flowers in the garden and when the fence, which Troy has been building throughout the play, is finally completed.

Additionally, Troy is no more the young baseball player he once was and Troy knows that life is not like a timeless baseball game. He is aware that he is going to die one day (Koprince 349, 353 – 354).

The yard as a baseball field can also be a metaphor for a battlefield. “The baseball players are modern-day warriors, the bat and ball are weapons, and the game itself a substitute for combat” (Koprince 354). Throughout the play, Troy is pictured as a warrior. He fights against discrimination and he is trying to survive in society. Troy’s yard is literally turned into a battlefield during his fight with his son Cory. In this fight the baseball bat functions as a weapon (Koprince 354 – 355).

The baseball field is also always turned into a graveyard. At the end of each baseball game there is one team that has to lose – to die. In the case of Troy, he knows that “everybody gonna die” (Wilson 10). But Troy wants to go “down swinging” (69). He would never give up. Therefore Troy’s death is a symbolic and also tragic one. Troy “was out [in the yard] swinging that bat. […] He swung that bat and then he just fell over. Seem like he swung it and stood there with his grin on his face … and then he just fell over” (96). In the end, when his brother Gabriel opens the doors of heaven for him, and his daughter planted some flowers, the dirty yard turns into a sacred space. “By depicting Troy’s final playing field as sacred space, Wilson mythologizes his African American hero and celebrates Troy’s warrior spirit” (Koprince 356, 357).

[...]


[1] The picture Wilson had in his mind when he started the play developed into Troy having an affair with Alberta and finally it becomes visible in act two, scene three, where Troy is standing in his yard with the child of Alberta in his arms. (Wilson 78)

[2] „In a metaphor, a word or expression that in literal usage denotes one kind of thing is applied to a distinctly different kind of thing, without asserting a comparison“ (Abrams 119).

[3] One might also say, that Troy‘s yard and house are his ballpark. However for the following it is not of importance if you see his yard as a whole baseball field or just as his ballpark.

[4] „Marked by youth” because only young, healthy and strong players are allowed to enter the baseball field and „timelessness“ because a baseball game has no real time limit (Koprince 349).

Details

Pages
11
Year
2011
ISBN (eBook)
9783656461555
ISBN (Book)
9783656461906
File size
511 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v230143
Institution / College
University of Bayreuth
Grade
1,3
Tags
August Wilson Fences Baseball Broadway Black writer

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Title: Baseball Mythology in August Wilson's Fences