Fences explores the complex relationships of a 1950s middle-class, African American family and how they deal with issues of financial hardship, infidelity, and insecurities.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In “How Jackie Robinson Changed Baseball,” Jessica McBirney discusses the life and accomplishments of Jackie Robinson, the first African American Major League baseball player.
There were many phenomenal players in the "Negro Leagues" whose stats surpassed players in the Major Leagues, but Jackie Robinson was chosen for his talent and ability to resist violent retaliation to the taunting from white racists. Have students read this text before reading Act One, Scene One to provide historical context for segregation in baseball and how this hampered Troy’s career. Pair Fences: Act One, Scene One, with “How Jackie Robinson Changed Baseball,” and ask students to compare the challenges that Jackie Robinson faced to Troy’s experiences. What is the nature of Troy’s animosity toward Major League Baseball?
In Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death," the speaker meets Death, personified as a carriage driver. This poem is a classic example of Dickinson's poetry - short, choppy sentences, packed with meaning and metaphor.
In this poem, the speaker uses figurative language to describe death. Introduce this poem after reading Act One, Scene One when Troy talks about his fight with death. Pair Fences: Act One, Scene One with “Because I Could Not Stop For Death,” and ask students to compare and contrast Troy’s perspectives on death with the speaker of the poem’s perspective. What is the significance of the personification of death in Troy’s soliloquy and the speaker in Dickinson’s poem? What does the personification of death in both texts convey about how they face their mortality?
Loving another person and accepting love from another person can sometimes be a very painful experience. In his article, “Why Do We Hate Love,” Robert Firestone, Ph.D. explains the psychology behind this phenomenon.
Dr. Firestone outlines why people reject love and how people are affected by the lack of love in their childhood. Introduce this text after reading and discussing the argument between Cory and Troy in Act One, Scene Three to help students analyze the relationship between the two characters. Have students use “Why Do People Hate Love?” as a theoretical guideline to help analyze the relationship between Troy and Cory and the possible reasons for their conflict. This text will also help students analyze Act One, Scene Four, as they learn about Troy’s childhood — how it influences his self-concept and the way he treats Cory.
The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the father of psychotherapy, is credited with the development of the idea of the subconscious: the deepest layer of the human mind, said to be the place where memories, wishes, fears, and dreams are stored. This famous theory, as explored in this text, posits that humans are controlled by their unconscious mind.
Have students read this text before reading Act Two, Scene One when Troy admits to Rose that he’s had an extramarital affair and that he has fathered a child with his mistress. Pair Fences: Act Two, Scene One with “Freud’s Theory of Id, Ego, and Superego,” and ask students to discuss Freud’s theory in relation to Troy’s impulsive behavior and his unconscious mind. Is Troy in control of his actions and completely responsible for his infidelity, or is he blameless because his unconscious feelings of inadequacy overpower his conscious desire to be faithful to Rose?
In Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poem “what love isn’t,” Ward explores attributes of love not often discussed.
The speaker of the poem outlines the complexities of love as they contrast to myths about real love. Have students read “what love isn’t” after reading Act Two, Scene One when Rose argues that she sacrificed her happiness to be faithful to Troy — facing the complexities of marriage — while he betrayed her with his infidelity. Pair Fences: Act Two, Scene One with “what love isn’t,” and ask students to analyze the relationship between Troy and Rose through the lens of this poem. What is the nature of the relationship between Troy and Rose? How does the love in their marriage compare to Daley-Ward’s definition of love?
Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was an American psychologist who wrote extensively about human behavior, motivations, and needs. This passage explores his best known work: the hierarchy of needs.
In order for one to reach the next stage in the hierarchy, the previous stage must be fulfilled. Introduce this text after reading Act Two, Scene One when Troy reveals why he cheated on Rose and the emotional void that his mistress filled for him. In this scene, Rose also reveals her unmet needs and how she has coped with this void. Pair Fences: Act Two, Scene One with “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” and ask students to analyze the needs of Troy and Rose in the play. Where does each character lie on Maslow’s hierarchy? Which need is Troy trying to meet? Which need is Rose lacking? What is preventing Troy and Rose from ascending to their next stage in Maslow’s Hierarchy?
In Daniel Beaty’s poem “Knock Knock,” the speaker describes his relationship with his father and how he is impacted by his eventual absence.
Have students read this poem after they have finished reading the play. Pair Fences with “Knock Knock,” and ask students to compare the needs of both Cory and the speaker as they relate to their father’s love. How do the circumstances endured by both Troy and the father in "Knock Knock" impact their parenthood and the development of their sons? How does the absence of their fathers affect Cory and the speaker of the poem in their adulthood?