After reading Fences, Act I, begin a discussion, by replying to this post’s “Discussion Questions for Act I. Ideally, you should read a bit of the discussion thread, then go back and reply to my post (or perhaps you’ll be the first one to get the class discussion going…). Please integrate textual support (i.e. “direct quotes” or paraphrases), as needed, to help illustrate your points. Proofread your responses carefully.
Discussion Questions for Act I:
Act I, Scene 1 and 2
1. Wilson is known for giving in-depth, vivid exposition and “playwright’s notes” before the action/dialogue of the play even begins. After reading Wilson’s notes on “Setting” and “The Play” (p. 1030-1031),create a response where you discuss the importance of this info for readers. In other words, what does Wilson want us to be aware of? What do we learn by reading about the setting and his notes on “The Play” before the play’s dialogue begins?
2. Wilson’s first scene of the play is one of his longest–most likely because he wants his readers/audience to get fully set up for the course of the play, he establishes initial characterizations (that we’ll see will change over the course of the play), and he introduces the beginning of several conflicts. What conflicts are presented through the dialogue of the characters in this scene? You should discuss at least two conflicts.
3. Give a brief character sketch of Troy Maxson–describing his personality presented so far (and, perhaps how he interacts with others)
in Act I, Scenes 1-2. Do you find him to be a likable character, despite any flaws? Although we will find that he is quite a complicated character, Wilson intended for him to be a modern hero (re: literary terms review/lecture notes). In other words, although he may be a flawed character, are his intentions good?
Act I, Scene 3 and 4:
1. In Scene III, Wilson presents an extended scene where Troy and Cory banter back and forth about baseball as well as their differing views on money and what Cory’s future goals should be. Discuss how you feel Cory challenges his father on these two issues.
2. Troy is exasperated when Cory asks him, “How come you ain’t never liked me?” What is Troy’s response and what does this say about his concept of fatherhood?
3. In Scene IV, Troy and Bono engage in detailed reveries from their pasts. Wilson also employs the use of the monologue as a dialogue technique for Troy. What does Lyons learn by listening to these recounted experiences? Also, briefly give some thoughts on the character of Gabriel, which Wilson has said was inspired by the archangel Gabriel.
Lecture Notes /Fences
I.August Wilson background:
- Born Frederick August Kittel in 1945 in a poor Pittsburgh ghetto known as “The Hill.” Wilson set most of his plays in or around this area.
- “My generation of blacks knew very little about the past of our parents,” he told the New York Times in 1984.“They shielded us from the indignities they suffered.”Wilson’s goal eventually became “illuminat[ing] that shadowy past with plays that focus on black issues” (qtd. in “August Wilson:A Profile of the Author’s Life and Works”).
- In 1959, he was the only black student in his high school class.Threats and abuse drive him to drop out.He later transfers to a different school in 1960.At this time, he also drops out of school because a teacher accuses him of plagiarizing a 20-page paper on Napoleon.
- Continues his self-education in libraries and on the street.Becomes influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, is drawn to the theatre, and inspired by the Civil Rights movement
- 1965:A pivotal moment in Wilson’s development—he discovers the Blues and at this time is moved by Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine.” Wilson’s father (whom he had a strained relationship with) dies.Wilson takes his mother’s maiden name and becomes known as simply August Wilson. Buys his first typewriter for 20 dollars and begins writing poetry…
- 1968:Co-founds Black Horizon Theatre in Pittsburgh with Rob Penny.
- 1976-1978: Writes a series of plays to little or no critical acclaim.Moves to Minnesota where he seems to have discovered his true artistic voice.When asked about his early efforts within the theatre, Wilson told the New York Times that he deemed himself as a “cultural nationalist…trying to raise consciousness through theatre” (qtd. in “August Wilson: A Profile…”).Wilson often referred to Broadway as having the “connotation of Mecca” and asked, “Who doesn’t want to go to Mecca?”
- Embarks on his artistic quest, “The Cycle”: 10 plays, each representing a decade in the life of African-Americans.“I’m taking each decade,” Wilson said, “and looking at one of the most important questions that blacks confronted in that decade and writing a play about it.Put them all together, and you have a history” (qtd. in “August Wilson: A Profile…”).
- Plays within the Cycle: Jitney, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences (Pulitzer Prize), Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson (Pulitzer Prize), Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean, Golf Radio.
- In Sept. 2005, Wilson announced that he had been diagnosed with liver cancer and he died shortly thereafter, ironically, after the last play in the cycle, Golf Radio, had been staged.
- Dramatic Concept for Fences and Themes as written by Wilson scholar, Yvonne Shafer, author of “Breaking Barriers:August Wilson”
In the play, Fences, Wilson is dealing with the polarities of loving and dying. In Beyond the Pleasure Principal Freud noted Eros and the death wish as the elementary powers whose counterpoint governs all the puzzles of life. Wilson establishes these two forces as governing factors in the life of the protagonist. Fences deals with the failed dreams of Troy Maxson, a black ball player who played in the minority black leagues, but was barred from the major (all white) leagues because of his race. Set in the 1950s, Fences presents conflicts familiar to blacks in the audience–indeed, one critic wrote that he was moved to tears because he seemed to see his own life on stage [Brent Staples, “‘Fences’: No Barrier to Emotion,” New York Times, April 5, 1987].
ART ACTIVITY: PROCESS
The art in this chapter emphasizes the lived moment, or actions as they are happening, by focusing on the processes involved. Take this practice as an inspiration for making your own process art piece.
1. Begin by listing or documenting as many actions as you can for a three-hour period during your day. For example: Monday from 1-4pm – folded clothes, texted, cooked food, worked out, browsed the internet, did some reading, etc.
2. Now make an art piece, in any format, that seems to express that small segment of your life effectively. Feel free to utilize any medium: drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, etc. Keep in mind that artworks made using alternative media and processes draw our attention away from art that tells a story, or that seems to be a picture of something, and toward the acts of making, thinking, and experiencing. You can consider artworks in this chapter or elsewhere in the book for inspiration. There is no right or wrong way to approach this, and to alleviate the pressure of “getting it right” and to encourage “outside of the box” thinking, you will be given credit for your valiant attempt.
3. Photograph your newly created art piece. Any type of camera can be used, including a phone camera.
4. In the comments section of your submission, write a paragraph answering these questions: What do you notice when you reflect on your list? Which things reflect normal, mundane, parts of your daily routine? Which things are unusual? How can you effectively convey or communicate your experience for this time period?