Role of Baseball in August Wilson’s Play “Fences”

August Wilson’s play “Fences” focuses on the life of Troy Masson, a former Negro Baseball League player. Even though his baseball career is in the past baseball still plays an important part in his life because his career was probably the best part of his life. At the same time, the role of baseball in the play is not limited to the scope of the life of the main character. In fact, baseball becomes a symbol of the racial discrimination and the struggle of African Americans against it. Baseball used to be the means of separation of blacks and whites but, in the course of time, baseball has proved to be able to eliminate racial barriers as African American baseball players, such as Jackie Robinson. In such a way, baseball becomes a symbol of the segregation in the American society which undergoes a consistent change to lead the American toward more tolerant racial relations than Americans got used to have in the past.

The main character of the play Troy is a former Negro Baseball League player, whose entire career was the manifestation of the huge gap, the unsurpassable racial barrier between African Americans and whites. His professional career proved that racial barriers are unsurpassable and the American dream was unattainable for people of African American origin (Koprince, 54). He used to be a successful player but his career did not bring him any benefits. Being an African American, Troy could not count for the fame and wealth of white baseball players. No wonder, after the end of his professional career he slips to poverty and alcoholism. The former baseball player, whose performance was outstanding, has to work as a garbageman just because he is the African American and there is no other job for him as well as for other African Americans. In spite of his outstanding sportive performance, he still remains a representative of the second-class, inferior to the whites. In this respect, the conversation between Troy and his friend Jim Bono is quite noteworthy. Jim Bono remarks that Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson were the only players to hit more home runs than Troy that proves his talent as a baseball player. However, Troy has nothing to respond but: “What it ever get me? Ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of” (Wilson, 9). His disappointment is obvious but, what is more, it is obvious that he has never counted for success or wealth due to his professional success because he was just an African American. In such a context, being an African American means being inferior to white even though his baseball performance is great and he definitely used to play better than many white baseball players.

However, the times are changing and his wife, Rose, and Jim Bono remarks that racial barriers have already started to disappear. At least, Jackie Robinson was the first African American player to dismantle racial barriers in baseball. Rose and Bono remarks that Troy “just come along too early” (Wilson, 9). This remarks offends Troy and he responses indignantly:

There ought not never have been no

time called too early! ”¦ I done seen a

hundred niggers play baseball better

than Jackie Robinson. Hell, I know

some teams Jackie Robinson couldn’t

even make! What you talking about

Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson wasn’t

nobody. I’m talking about if you

could play ball then they ought to have

let you play. Don’t care what color you

were. Come telling me I come along

too early. If you could play ”¦ then

they ought to have let you play. (Wilson, 9-10)


In such a way, Troy attempts to explain his friend and his wife that racism persisted in baseball and the American society at large but he attempts to be above it. He attempts to explain that baseball was more important for him than any material benefits or recognition of the public. At the same time, he sounds to be very skeptical about improvements and changes his wife and friend are talking about. In other words, he does not believe in positive changes. Instead, he is certain that inequality between African Americans and white will persist. In such a way, August Wilson shows the extent to which racism and segregation were deep-rooted in the American society and consciousness of Americans.

In this respect, it is possible to refer to evidence provided by other specialists who lived through the hard time of racial segregation in the US: “The racism we faced while I was in the Negro Leagues was one of the things that eventually pushed me out of baseball”¦ I was treated like a second-class citizen in my own country by people who knew they hated me before I could even say ”˜Hello’” (Craft 44). Even the appearance of Jackie Robinson the first African American baseball player along with white players did not change the situation much because: “At that time we didn’t think too much of Robinson. He was a hustler, but other than that he wasn’t a top shortstop. We said, ”˜We don’t see how he can make it’” (Holway 267). In fact, this means that even though Jackie Robinson played along with white baseball players he was still inferior and he was viewed as a hustler but not as a player or person equal to the whites. Therefore, Troy is right in his skepticism concerning prospects of African American in baseball. In such a way, the author shows that, in spite of seemingly positive changes, the American dream still remains an unattainable goal for African Americans. Whatever success they reach in the US, they will be treated as second-class citizens.

In such a context, the optimism of Bono and Rosa is quite uncertain. On the other hand, it is impossible to deny some positive changes that have started to occur in the US society. Nevertheless, the desperate position of Troy, a former great baseball player, leaves little room for hope for many African Americans. In fact, even if Bono and Rosa are right in their optimism, the success of African Americans would be rather exceptional than a norm, i.e. even if such people as Jackie Robinson succeed millions of African American will still stumble in poverty.

Thus, in conclusion, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that baseball in the play “Fences” by August Wilson mirrors the racial relationships between African Americans and the whites. The author uses baseball as an example that shows that the American dream is unattainable for African Americans and, in spite of their outstanding performance in baseball or any other sport or field, they still remain inferior to the whites.

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