Critique of a Choice Made by a Character in Fences

ESSAY #2:  On Drama


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Critique of a Choice Made by a Character in Fences

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The task for Essay #2 is to critique, to evaluate and make some judgment about, one choice or decision made by one character in Fences.  Begin with a scene where a character makes a choice:  In Act I, Scene III, for example, when Rose asks Troy why he won’t let Cory play football, he says, “I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports.  Not after what they did to me in the sports” (Wilson 1144).  What reasons seem to motivate Troy?  Is he trying to protect Cory from the racism he experienced?  Is he letting his own bitterness and disappointment get the better of him?  Is he jealous?  Or is he just being realistic?  What actions does he take as a result of this decision and what are the consequences?


Begin with a scene like this and develop a tentative thesis about why a character chooses to act or think or feel in a particular way AND about how you judge the character as a result:  Is the character to blame?  Praiseworthy?  Why?  Analyze additional scenes in the play that offer details in support of your critique.  But note:  try not to oversimplify—remember the play is a tragedy.  A character like Troy is flawed, no doubt.  But his failings may be rooted in fate, in forces that are beyond his control.  At the same time, he has strengths, just as Rose and Cory and the rest have their weaknesses.


As in your first paper, you do NOT need to retell the entire plot.  You can assume your reader is familiar with it and simply may need to be reminded of the details, the dramatic elements, of one or another scene that provide illustration and evidence of your ideas.  Does the dialogue between Rose and Troy when she says “I ain’t never wanted no half nothing in my family” in the climactic first scene of Act II (Wilson 1160-61) help clarify or complicate your understanding of why Rose chooses to adopt / embrace Raynell two scenes later (1167)?  How do specific images like the fence itself, first base, the roof and the television, Gabe’s trumpet or his key or the flowers he brings to Rose symbolize one or another theme that Wilson explores through the issues the characters face?  Point out specific dramatic elements in specific scenes that help you to understand and assess or evaluate a decision made by one character during the course of the play.


The draft you write should include the following parts:


  • An Introduction that focuses attention on your thesis—the primary idea or overall point you have come to, the conclusion (not to be confused with the end of your paper) that you have arrived at as a result of examining the motives and consequences of a character’s actions.
  • Your analysis of a character’s decision (whether conscious or unconscious) to act or think or feel a specific way. Consider one or more of the following questions:
  1. What conflicts, pressures, experiences contribute to his / her decision?
  2. What are the character’s options?
  3. How do his / her relationships with other characters clarify his / her motives?
  4. What seem to be the personality factors—the feelings, needs, desires, disappointments, values, attitudes—that drive the character?
  • Detailed explanations of how specific scenes help develop your understanding of the factors—external (parental abuse, for example) and internal (alcohol abuse, for example)—that might account for a character’s actions.
  • A clearly reasoned argument defending how and why you credit or fault (or both) the character. This should include reasons for and against a counter argument.  If you blame Troy, for example, for his betrayal of Rose, consider the fact that Rose herself seems to forgive him at the end of the play.
  • Possibly some discussion of how your view of the character raises larger psychological, cultural, or moral issues that may be thematic threads in the play. For example, what does Troy’s decision to challenge the way Black men are given no opportunity to drive the garbage trucks get you thinking about the role that race plays in the characters’ lives—and from there what ideas about race Wilson seems to raise in the play.
  • A Concluding paragraph(s) that comments on your main point and perhaps suggests a direction for further thought on the subject. As in your first paper, don’t just repeat your Introduction.  End with a question for the reader to consider, a hint at another way to think about your subject, a quote or an anecdote.  Be creative.


You may, if you find it helpful, refer to one or another scene as it is portrayed in the 2016 Denzel Washington film version of Fences—but do so only by way of comparison with the written text and be sure to distinguish between the two in your citations.


Again, how you organize the essay and what specific details you analyze in order to develop your ideas is up to you.  But the paper should have a unified focus, reflected in its title, and coherent transitions connecting one idea or example to the next.  Use MLA Conventions for parenthetical page references to all passages that you cite from the play or any outside research.

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