What Does Death Symbolize in Fences? Exploring the Symbolism of Death in August Wilson’s Masterpiece

When it comes to August Wilson’s play, “Fences,” there are a lot of topics that come into play. From the Black experience to the changing times of the mid-20th century, there’s a lot going on within the pages of this story. But one of the recurring themes that can’t be overlooked is the symbolism of death. Throughout the play, death is a constant symbol, representing everything from the characters’ hopes and dreams to the realities of their harsh, everyday lives.

Death is a complex idea in “Fences,” as it means different things to different characters. Sometimes it’s a release from a life of struggle, while other times it represents the loss of someone close. Death also serves as a reminder of the societal inequalities that keep the characters trapped and unable to escape their circumstances. Wilson uses death as a way to highlight the harsh realities of life for African Americans during this time period, making it a poignant and impactful symbol throughout the play.

Ultimately, the symbolism of death in “Fences” is an essential component of the story. It serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by African Americans during the mid-20th century and the toll that those challenges took on individuals and families. Though death is a difficult aspect of life to grapple with, it’s one that should be explored in stories like this, as it offers a unique perspective on the experiences of those going through tough times.

Death as a Physical End

Death is an inevitable reality of life that everyone must face at some point. In August Wilson’s play Fences, death is a recurring theme that symbolizes the end of physical existence. The play revolves around the life of Troy Maxson, a former baseball player turned garbage collector, and his family in 1950s Pittsburgh. Death is mentioned several times throughout the play and serves as a reminder that life is finite and that we all must come to an end at some point.

  • Death as a natural process

    In Fences, death is depicted as a natural process that is a part of the cycle of life. This is shown when Troy’s brother Gabriel, who suffered a head injury in the war, dies towards the end of the play. Gabriel’s death is portrayed as a release from his suffering and shows that death can be seen as a natural end to physical pain and trauma.

  • Death as a way to escape responsibility

    Troy’s affair with Alberta, which leads to her death during childbirth, shows how death can be used as an escape from taking responsibility for one’s actions. Troy’s inability to deal with the guilt and responsibility of his actions leads to him lashing out at his wife and son, creating a rift in his family that is never truly repaired.

  • Death as a way to attain freedom

    In Fences, death is also portrayed as a way to attain freedom from the struggles of life. Troy’s own death is symbolic as it is the end of his struggles and the beginning of a new life for his family. The scene where Troy talks to Death personified shows how he is ready for his physical existence to end and how death can be seen as a way to attain true freedom.


In conclusion, death in Fences symbolizes the end of physical existence and is used to show the natural cycle of life, the consequences of irresponsible actions, and the attainment of freedom. Wilson’s play expertly portrays the many facets of death and how it affects individuals and their loved ones. Ultimately, death is a reminder that we must all cherish the time we have and make the most of our physical existence while we can.

Death as a metaphorical end

In August Wilson’s play, Fences, death is a recurring theme that has a metaphorical sense of finality. The play depicts how the death of a character can symbolize the end of their physical presence, but also the conclusion of their personal growth and the end of an era. It is a force that ultimately shapes the lives of the characters and their relationships with one another.

Troy Maxson’s death, the protagonist of the play, represents the end of his struggle with himself, his family, and society. It is the ultimate end of his personal journey, as well as the end of his role as the head of the family. His son, Cory, also experiences a symbolic end, as he loses his father and his dream of becoming a football player.

  • Death of a dream: Throughout the play, various characters have dashed ambitions and failed dreams. Death can symbolize the end of these aspirations and the closure of what could have been.
  • Death of a relationship: Death can signal the closing of a bond, whether it be positive or negative. In Fences, Troy’s complicated relationship with his son, Cory, can be seen as coming to an end with the protagonist’s passing.
  • Death of an era: With each death, the characters of Fences are forced to confront a new reality. The old ways, whether good or bad, have come to a close and a new chapter is beginning.

There is a striking similarity between death and the concept of fences that Troy builds throughout the play. The fence serves as a symbol of protection, and, at times, confinement. It delineates the space within which the characters live out their lives. When characters pass away, the fence marks where their journey ended and where a new chapter must begin.

Character How their death represents a metaphorical end
Troy Maxson Symbolizes the end of his personal journey and the end of an era as the head of the family
Alberta Her death serves as the end of Troy’s infidelity and the ultimate crisis in his marriage with Rose
Raynell Her arrival at the end of the play represents the new beginning of the Maxson family, despite the loss of her father and brother

Overall, death in Fences symbolizes a metaphorical end that can mark the end of a dream, the end of a relationship, or the end of an era. While it may seem like a bleak conclusion, the play also shows how death can pave the way for new beginnings and growth.

Literal death in the play’s plot

Death, a universal state of being, is a constant theme in August Wilson’s play, Fences. The play centers around the life of Troy Maxson, a former baseball player who now works as a garbage collector. Throughout the play, there are various instances of literal death that symbolize the harsh realities of life and the inevitability of death.

  • Raynell’s mother – Raynell is Troy’s daughter, born of an affair he had while still married to his wife, Rose. Raynell’s mother dies while giving birth to her. This literal death serves as a reminder of the consequences of infidelity, as well as the fragility of life.
  • Gabe – Gabe is Troy’s brother who suffered a head injury during World War II. He now thinks he is the archangel Gabriel, sent to open the gates of heaven. Gabe’s death at the end of the play serves as a reminder of the sacrifice and trauma of war, as well as the struggle for the disabled in society.
  • These instances of literal death are intertwined with the themes of the play, such as the consequences of infidelity, the impact of war, and the struggle for the disabled in society. They serve as a reminder that death is a part of life and that it can be a powerful symbol of the harsh realities that we must all face.

    Overall, the theme of literal death in Fences is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and the consequences of our actions. It serves as a symbol of the harsh realities that we must all face, and the importance of facing them head-on.

    It is a testament to Wilson’s skill as a playwright that he is able to use these instances of literal death to create a powerful story that is both relatable and thought-provoking.

    Symbolism of the Fence in Comparison to Death

    A fence is often seen as a physical boundary between spaces. In August Wilson’s play Fences, the fence represents many things such as protection, separation, and confinement. It symbolizes the emotional barriers that Troy, the protagonist, has built to keep others out and to protect himself from the harsh reality of life.

    • The fence can also be seen as a symbol of death. It represents the inevitable end that all humans will face. The fence serves as a reminder to the characters in the play that death is lurking just beyond their physical and emotional boundaries.
    • Death is also metaphorically represented by the fence in the sense that it separates the living from the dead. The physicality of the fence separates life and death, and serves as a cold reminder to the characters that death is a part of life.
    • The fence can also be seen as a symbol of the emotional and psychological barriers that prevent the characters from confronting and dealing with the reality of death. Troy’s inability to accept his brother’s death and his emotional denial of his own mortality is reflected in his refusal to finish building the fence.

    Wilson uses the symbolism of the fence to bring attention to the inevitability of death and the emotional barriers that people create to deal with it. In Fences, the fence represents the struggle that the characters face both emotionally and physically in confronting the end of life. The fence is a constant reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of building meaningful relationships with others while we are still alive.

    Symbolism Fence Death
    Protection Physical barrier Relief from suffering
    Separation Dividing space Separating the living and the dead
    Confinement Restricting movement Final destination

    Overall, the fence in Fences serves as a powerful and multi-faceted symbol that represents the fear and denial of death, the physical and emotional barriers that prevent people from facing the reality of their own mortality, and the importance of building meaningful relationships before it is too late.

    Troy’s struggle with mortality

    Troy Maxson, the protagonist of August Wilson’s play Fences, is a middle-aged African-American man who is grappling with his own mortality. Throughout the play, he struggles to come to terms with the inevitability of death and the legacy he will leave behind.

    • Denial: At the start of the play, Troy is in denial about his own mortality. He refuses to go to the doctor when he experiences chest pains, insisting that he is fine and dismissing his wife Rose’s concerns. He also rejects the idea of being buried in his father’s hometown, claiming that he has no connection to it.
    • Aging: Troy is acutely aware of the physical toll that aging is taking on him. He compares himself unfavorably to his son Cory, a high school football player, and feels emasculated by his inability to perform sexually.
    • The specter of death: As the play progresses, death becomes an increasingly present reality for Troy. He has a heart attack, which forces him to confront his own mortality. He also experiences the deaths of several loved ones, including his mother, father, and best friend.

    Despite his struggles, Troy ultimately finds a measure of peace and acceptance in his own mortality. In the final scene of the play, he has died offstage and his family is left to grapple with his legacy. His son Cory plants a tree in his honor, symbolizing the growth that can come from accepting death as a natural part of life.

    Symbol Meaning
    The fence The fence that Troy builds around his yard is a symbol of his attempt to keep death at bay. It represents his desire to protect his family from the outside world and preserve what he has built for himself.
    The baseball The baseball that Troy catches repeatedly is a symbol of his own mortality. It represents the inevitability of death and the way that Troy is constantly grappling with his own mortality.

    Through Troy’s struggles with mortality, August Wilson explores the universal human experience of coming to terms with our own finite existence. By grappling with death, Troy ultimately finds a sense of peace and acceptance that allows him to leave a lasting legacy for his family and community.

    Death as a means of achieving catharsis

    In August Wilson’s play Fences, death is a recurring theme that serves as a means of achieving catharsis. The play revolves around the life of Troy Maxson, a former baseball player who struggles with his past and present relationships with family and friends. Throughout the play, Troy’s character undergoes a significant transformation that culminates in his eventual death, which serves as a release from his earthly struggles.

    • In the beginning of the play, Troy is portrayed as a hardworking husband and father who provides for his family but is emotionally distant from them.
    • As the play progresses, he becomes increasingly frustrated and angry with his son, Cory, for pursuing a career as a football player instead of a more stable job.
    • Troy’s own unresolved issues and bitterness towards his own failed baseball career fuels his resentment towards his son.

    However, when Troy dies at the end of the play, his death is a release for both him and the other characters, particularly for Cory. Troy’s death is a means of achieving catharsis for the characters who are left behind, enabling them to confront their own emotions about their relationships with Troy and with each other.

    In the table below, we can see how Troy’s death affects the characters:

    Character How Troy’s death affects them
    Cory Finally able to confront his feelings about his father and move on
    Rose (Troy’s wife) Forced to confront the reality of her husband’s infidelity and the impact it had on their family
    Bono (Troy’s friend) Reflects on the good and bad times in his friendship with Troy

    Troy’s death serves as a release not only for his own character but also for the other characters, providing them with the opportunity to confront their emotions and achieve catharsis.

    Relationship between death and forgiveness

    Death is a recurring motif in August Wilson’s play Fences that serves as a powerful symbol of the characters’ emotional and psychological struggles. One of the significant themes in the play is forgiveness, which is intimately connected with death. In this article, we will explore the relationship between death and forgiveness in Fences.

    • Death as a catalyst for forgiveness – In Fences, several characters experience the death of loved ones, which forces them to evaluate their relationships and confront their past mistakes. For example, Troy’s affair with Alberta leads to her death, which compels him to admit his mistake to his wife, Rose, and ask for her forgiveness. Similarly, Lyons’ father’s death brings him closer to his family and leads him to seek forgiveness for his neglectful behavior towards them.
    • Death as a barrier to forgiveness – However, death can also be a barrier to forgiveness when it prevents people from seeking and receiving forgiveness. For instance, Troy’s strained relationship with his father is unresolved because he dies before Troy has a chance to reconcile with him. Similarly, Gabriel’s mental disability resulting from war injuries and subsequent institutionalization leave unresolved issues between him and his brother, Troy.
    • Forgiveness and acceptance of death – Forgiveness requires acceptance of the inevitability of death and the impermanence of life. Throughout the play, characters struggle to come to terms with death and acknowledge their mortality. For example, Troy’s confrontation with Death in the final scene of the play illustrates his acceptance of his mortality and the importance of forgiveness before one’s death.

    Wilson uses death as a powerful symbol to explore the complexity of forgiveness and its significance in human relationships. It shows that death can both bring people together and drive them apart, creating emotional barriers that can only be overcome through forgiveness and acceptance.

    Symbol Significance
    Troy’s bat A symbol of his inner turmoil
    Gabriel’s trumpet A symbol of hope and redemption
    Rose’s garden A symbol of nurturing, growth, and resurgence

    Ultimately, Fences challenges readers to reflect on the complexity of forgiveness and the significance of death in shaping human relationships. It shows that forgiveness requires a willingness to confront one’s past mistakes, acknowledge one’s mortality, and accept the impermanence of life.

    Perception of death in African-American culture

    Death is a common theme in many African-American cultural traditions and is often seen as a natural part of the cycle of life. While there are many different beliefs surrounding death, there are certain cultural practices that are typical across the spectrum of African-American communities.

    • Respect for Ancestors – In African-American culture, death doesn’t necessarily mean a complete separation from loved ones. In many cultures, ancestors are venerated and believed to play an ongoing role in the lives of their descendants. This belief provides a sense of continuity and allows for a certain level of communication with those who have passed on.
    • Mourning Traditions – Mourning traditions in African-American communities are often unique and distinct. For example, the tradition of wearing all black to a funeral is a widespread practice that symbolizes respect for the deceased and their family. There are also traditions surrounding how long a family should wait before holding a funeral and how long they should mourn afterward.
    • Embracing Spirituality – Many African-American communities find solace in embracing spiritual beliefs and practices after death. These beliefs often involve reincarnation, or the idea that the deceased’s spirit will continue on in some form after death. It’s also common for African-American communities to turn to religious institutions in times of bereavement, seeking counsel and support from their religious leaders.

    One peculiar aspect of African-American culture is their belief in the number 8, which represents new beginnings. The number 8 holds a special significance in many African-American communities, with many believing that it represents the next step in the cycle of life. This belief is reflected in many cultural traditions, including the practice of pouring 8 glasses of water in a deceased’s home to signify the beginning of a new journey for the departed.

    Symbolism Meaning
    8 Glasses of Water Signifies the beginning of a new journey for the departed. The use of the number 8 emphasizes the idea of new beginnings and the hope for a better next life.
    8-Day Funerals The eight-day funeral service is a practice that is unique to certain African-American communities. This practice involves a week-long period of mourning, with each day being dedicated to a specific aspect of the mourning process. During this time, family and friends come together to honor the deceased and provide support to those who are grieving.

    In conclusion, death has a unique role in African-American culture. The perception of death is often tied to spiritual beliefs and is viewed as a natural progression in the cycle of life. Mourning traditions, respect for ancestors, and spiritual practices are all important aspects of the way African-American communities approach death and the grieving process. Moreover, their belief in the number 8 connotes new beginnings and is reflected in many cultural practices.

    The Impact of Death on Family Dynamics

    August Wilson’s play ‘Fences’ explores the impact of death on family dynamics. The play centers around Troy Maxson, a former Negro League baseball player, who struggles to build a relationship with his son, Cory. Throughout the play, the symbol of death appears in various forms and impacts the family dynamics. Here is a closer look at the impact of death on family dynamics in ‘Fences’:

    • Anticipation of Death: Troy is fearful of the Grim Reaper and shares numerous stories about his encounters with Him while he was working in the waste department. His fear of death is passed down to his family members, causing tension and anxiety in their lives.
    • Impact of Death on Relationships: The death of Gabriel’s mother and Troy’s fellow baseball player, Bono, affects the family dynamics in different ways. Gabriel’s mother’s death leads to his mental disability, and Troy’s guilt about his relationship with Bono affects his relationship with Rose and his son Cory.
    • Death as a Sign of Freedom: Troy symbolizes death as freedom and an escape from life’s struggles. He sees death as a way to escape from his relationship problems, and even tries to convince his son, Cory, that it is a way to escape from life’s problems.

    Additionally, the play also includes a powerful scene where Troy’s wife, Rose, reveals the impact of death on her life. She talks about how she has given up everything for Troy, and how she has never been able to fulfill her dreams.

    Overall, the impact of death on family dynamics is a crucial theme in ‘Fences.’ Through the play, Wilson portrays how death can have a profound impact on relationships and how it affects the lives of those who are left behind. The symbol of death serves as a reminder that life is not forever and underscores the importance of cherishing our loved ones while we have them.

    Symbolism of Gabriel’s Trumpet and Death

    Throughout August Wilson’s play “Fences,” the character of Gabriel serves as a symbolic representation of both death and the divine. Gabriel, who suffered a head injury in World War II, now carries around a trumpet and believes he has been tasked by God to open the gates of Heaven with his instrument. Here, I will explore the symbolism of Gabriel’s trumpet and death in “Fences,” with a focus on the number 10.

    • 10 is a significant number in the Bible, often symbolizing completeness or perfection. For example, there are 10 commandments and Jesus was tempted by the devil 10 times.
    • In “Fences,” Gabriel’s trumpet has 10 bells, making it a significant and powerful instrument.
    • The number 10 also represents the passage from life to death. In “Fences,” Gabriel’s announcement that the gates to Heaven will soon open with the sound of his trumpet symbolizes the characters’ impending deaths.

    Furthermore, Gabriel’s trumpet serves as a symbol of the connection between life and death. Gabriel’s accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, leaving him both alive and not fully alive. His trumpet is therefore a bridge between this world and the next, highlighting the theme of transition and change that runs throughout the play.

    In conclusion, Gabriel’s trumpet serves as a powerful symbol in “Fences,” representing both death and the divine. Through the use of the number 10, Wilson emphasizes the completeness and transition of life and death, as well as the connection between the two. Gabriel’s trumpet remains an important reminder that death is a natural part of life and that we must all eventually face it.

    Symbolism Explanation
    Gabriel’s trumpet Symbolizes the connection between life and death and the power of the divine.
    The number 10 Represents completeness and the transition from life to death.

    Overall, the symbolism of Gabriel’s trumpet and death in “Fences” serves as a reminder of the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. It also highlights the power of faith and the role of the divine in our lives.

    FAQs: What does Death Symbolize in Fences?

    1. What is the significance of Gabriel’s trumpet in relation to death in Fences?
    Gabriel’s trumpet symbolizes the notion of judgment day, an intimation of death that outweighs Troy’s belief in the value of his own life.

    2. How does Troy’s attitude towards death manifest in his relationships?
    Troy’s perspective regarding death brings about negative effects on his relationships, especially his strained friendship with Bono, whose mother had also recently died.

    3. What does the unfinished fence symbolize in relation to death?
    The unfinished fence represents many things, but it ultimately symbolizes Troy’s life and his inability to complete a task that he started.

    4. How does Rose’s discovery of Troy’s infidelity change the way she perceives life and death?
    Rose’s discovery of Troy’s infidelity opens her eyes to how fragile life can be and leads her to the realization that death can come unexpectedly.

    5. In what way does the looming threat of death impact the play’s characters?
    The constant presence of death remarkably influences each character, as they grapple with it in their own way, making them contemplate their existence and their relationships.

    6. What role does Troy’s father play in the overall theme of death?
    Troy’s father serves as a harsh reminder to him that he needed to do whatever he could to fend for himself, often leaving him in dire situations.

    7. What is the significance of the final lines of the play – “He was talking to somebody.”?
    The final lines of the play imply that Troy has died and makes it clear that death is an inescapable reality that all the characters will have to face as they go on with their lives.

    Closing Thoughts: Thanks for reading!

    Death is a difficult topic to discuss but examining the way it is used in Fences is important because it is such a significant theme of the play. Troy’s attitude towards life and death is not only a reflection of his own experiences, but it also affects the relationships with those around him. The characters’ experiences remind us that death is an unavoidable truth, and we should make the most out of our time. Thanks for taking the time to read about what death symbolizes in Fences. We hope you learned something new, and we invite you to come back again for more engaging discussions.