Troy Maxson as a Tragic Hero Essay

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Troy Maxson is the main character of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences. Troy is a complex character who faces the issues of family, race inequality, and personal responsibility. He is a former Negro League baseball player denied the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues because of racial segregation. Troy is deeply resentful of how racial inequality has held him back in life. Being troubled by his demons, he struggles to connect with his family. Despite his flaws, Troy is a deeply human character, and his story offers a poignant exploration of the challenges and triumphs of the African American experience in the 20th century.

Troy Maxson Character Analysis

In August Wilson’s play “Fences”, Troy appears to be the static character whose actions above all other characters is built around (Wikipedia, par.6). Troy is the greatest protagonist/tragic hero in the setting of the play. He does not want to accept the changes in the world because that would compel him to accept the “death” of his own dreams, Troy struggles to maintain a favorable and flourishing relationship with his family and friends that has been influenced by the adversities and hostile environments that he has encountered throughout his life.

Having been beaten down by his brutal and domineering father; Troy seeks to overcome this life of hardships and aspires to be the best that he can; however, he fails at this task on several different levels. His biggest failure is with his own son Cory when Troy interferes with Cory’s dreams of becoming a college football player. Another is his affair with Alberta that results in the birth of their daughter named Raynell; which ends up breaking the family bonds. Troy’s “battle with death” depicts a scenario of missions unaccomplished and is only corrected by the reunion of the family at Troy’s funeral. This analysis hypothesizes a tragic heroism in Troy.

Troy is by all rights, a whiner. His persistent complaints about racial discrimination affecting blacks portray him as a lover of whining. Troy often complains about the nature of things in his concocted stories with baseball, work, and the state of his life and that of his friends. He is very cynical about the world and has little tolerance for excuses on why people of color should be treated differently. This is partly attributed to his upbringing where all was not well in his father’s house. He consistently complains about the behavior of his family members and commands them to behave as he wishes.

He whines about the times when he was a player for the Negro Leagues but was denied the chance of playing Major League Baseball because of the times and his color. The discrimination even in the social aspects of life in Troy’s time reflects in his unfinished dream of becoming a star (Garrett, 15-16).

The discrimination he encounters in the workplace between the responsibility of the blacks and that of the whites exposes Troy’s determination. He struggles with the fact that the world is still in times of racial tensions and therefore rebels against the case involving the blacks and sees to it that they are given the fair chance to drive the trucks as opposed to the whites only. Troy dares the boss and challenges him about “How come you got all whites driving and the colored lifting?” (Wilson, 2).

He is determined and wins the case against this course. He eventually becomes a driver on one of the trucks due to his complaints with the sanitation management and union. He also approaches the racial practices with a lot of criticism and protesting against the limitations in work affecting the blacks while reminding others to remain responsible in their duties and not to engage in following a lot about his moves (, pars 4-5).

Troy is a hypocrite; he wants practical and responsible lives for his sons and wife which he does not live up to himself. He also wants all his friends to live responsible lives but is caught in a double role play. His hypocritical and domineering behavior towards his family and friends prevents him from having positive and beneficial relationships. He is generally cruel to his family members and demands of them complete respect obedience.

Troy is very domineering to his wife, Rose. This trait makes his wife become quite responsive as depicted in her instructions to Cory about his father not being pleasant with the subsequent lack of organization. When Troy arrives celebrating with Bono, he expects his wife to respond to him by acknowledging that he is home but expects her to leave them be since he says to Rose “What you worried about what we getting into for? This is men talk, woman” (Wilson, 5). His assertion for his wife to obey his calls every time she is called upon indicates a man fighting to claim control over failure. He wants things to go his own way while neglecting the reality of challenges.

This is also portrayed in his jealousy in his approach to dealing with Cory’s dream to join the football team. Troy, being a star athlete himself, and not having been successful at it, feels envious when the star of his son is rising. This is an indication of a jealous father to the successes of his son. This explains why he partially has allowed his son to enroll into the football team but under his limited conditions insisting that he does his supermarket job as well.

He does not want to accept that time has come for blacks to be incorporated in social activities together with the whites. Troy follows up on Cory’s enrollment in the football team and demands that he quits because he had not adhered to the initial agreement that Cory keeps his job at the supermarket. This was not practically possible for Cory so he pleads with Troy to allow him this once in a lifetime chance. Troy does not want to accept the changes that has taken place in the social realms and feels that all should go down with him as failures, his son included.

Troy does not seem to overcome this weakness as is seen in his insistence in sending the Cory away and not owning up to his mistakes. Troy is constantly misunderstanding his son, Cory. He requires that he be respected and referred to as “Sir” by his son. He also demands that Cory excuses himself while passing by Troy out of respect and dignity for his house and porch that Troy has worked hard to obtain. In his assault of his son, he is depicted as being furious and cruel.

When it comes to his relationship with Gabe, Troy wants to pretend that he does well for his brother but at the same time ignores his existence and ridicules Gabe for his decision to live at Mrs. Pearls. With Troy’s lack of competent literacy he ends up sending Gabe to the hospital where is now in sole custody of the state. Troy tries to deny this misconception but underneath seems aware of his actions to prove that he is in control.

His relationship with Lyons is critical meaning that he is constantly trying to get Lyons to come down and talk to people about getting a job with the sanitation crew. Troy believes that Lyons music is impractical and irresponsible. Lyons refuses to Troy stating “that ain’t for me. I don’t want to be carrying nobody’s rubbish. I don’t want to be punching nobody’s time clock” (Wilson, 17). This aggravates Troy because he feels that Lyons is looking down upon his work that provides them shelter, food, and money.

Troy’s relationship with Raynell is more laid back since she is so young, plus he forced to have her live with him and Rose since Alberta has died during childbirth leaving her no mother to care after her. Rose takes on the responsibility of raising the child but joins the church in hopes to keeping the family bonds together. Troy works on finishing the fence in hopes of keeping his family contained and others out.

His social and leadership traits are also seen in his loyalty following on through his relationship with Bono even in and out of jail. Bono considered him a good leader and even follows him willingly. Troy is fond of Bono and embraces him as a dear friend. He shares jokes and drinks with him. In most of the scenes, Bono appreciates Troy and sees him as a true friend; however, as a result of his relationship with Alberta which Bono does not approve of, Troy becomes increasingly stubborn. He also refuses to let go of his relationship with Alberta at the request of Bono. Instead, he sticks to his views of life in which he expects others to see too.

He wants others to appreciate him even thought he is in a state of conflicting ideologies occasioned by his life in two different realms. All his denials are an indication of the transformation from the life of slavery to that of partial freedom that he fought for, but which was never to be. In his friendship, he boasts; to Bono about winning the case against the blacks not being allowed to drive trucks. In his wayward and made up stories, he boasts of having fought death and won. He is seen to be a man with a lot of self pride in his way of dealing with his relations. This trait is also seen in his ability to admit to his wife about his extra marital affair with Alberta (Pereira, 27). He also dares his friend, Bono, over the state of his affair and this causes disagreement between them.

Is Troy Maxson a Tragic Hero?

Troy tries to portray the best in his social ability to manage his family with tough love and break away from the life of misery at the hands of his father back in the day. He entertains his family and friends through fun and humor. Troy’s made up stories indicate his sense of humor.

In his story about fighting death, told to his wife Rose and to his friend Bono, he personifies death. This makes his story quite humorous. He also tells a story about an old dog called Blue, an indication of his fantasies. Most of his stories were patched up with episodes of fiction and lies that shows a very factious person. His stories were quite compelling and told with a lot of fantasy that came to characterize his life. He told fibs to anyone who would listen to his stories and got away with most of them.

The relationship between Alberta and Troy reveals a man who has passion for love and determination to show affection, though he does at the wrong place. He is caring and shows extreme love for a woman who becomes the mother of his last child. The relationship however causes great rifts within his family and friends. He decides to continue with it in his attitude of stubbornness. Finally, because of his belief in himself, and in his caring attitude, he hears that Alberta has died in the hospital and must take Raynell into his care (, par.2). He expecting his wife to continue standing by his side due to the amount of years invested in one another without regards to the damage he has done to their relationship.

In one of the rare positive traits after his disillusionment, Troy becomes determined to live to the expectations of life far away from the negative effects of his father’s backyard. He becomes real to his duty to fending for the family after getting out of jail and fencing them in, which however, is not finished as expected.

While this is depicted as an unfinished business in his life, the determination with which Troy fences indicates his wish to have done all his things well. He is determined to live and see his out of wedlock daughter grow. In his mind Troy wishes and fights very hard for his family to be whole but eventually battles with death again and this time loses.

From the onset of his life, Troy is depicted as hardworking and strong. As a family man, he struggles as the breadwinner to fend for the family.

This enthusiasm for doing better than his father did is however frustrating through his meager progress in his work. His depression makes him disappointed and dependent on the state of his thinking to comfort him.

Because of the lack of commitment Troy has with his wife and family, the family slumps into communication breakdown that finally breaks apart. After he tells his wife about his relationship with Alberta, he proceeds to spend most of his time at her place in disregard to the family members needs for affection. This causes more heart ache at the expense of his family and friends. He is not caring and does not take his family seriously.

While Troy does not want to accept the changes in the world because that would cause him to accept the death of his own dreams; Troy struggles to maintain a favorable and flourishing relationship with his family and friends that has been influenced by the adversities and hostile environments that he has endured throughout his life. Hypocrisy and lies, self denial and a life of fantasy as well as promiscuity and a loss of love for family negates his positive course.


Overall, Troy is, as is seen in this analysis, a “tragic hero”. His life was lived positively at first, celebrated and liked by many, admired for his actions and his determination to break from the life of slavery in his father’s backyard and strength to fend for his family. Troy, however, develops stubbornness, an indication of a man trapped in a life of black shadows carried on from his father to him and now on to his own family and friends. Troy cannot accept change and chooses not to embrace the changes and make the most of them. He finds no solace in reality or religion but in fantasies and blues. He dies a negative character and leaves behind a divided family, and a lost legacy that the family struggles to correct through their union.

Works cited

BookRags Staff “Fences”. 2005. Web.

“Fences (play).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Aug 2008, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2008. Web.

“Fences: Troy Maxson.” Drama for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. ENotes. Web.

Pereira, Kim. August Wilson and the African-American Odyssey. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Garrett-Shannon, Sandra. August Wilson’s Fences: a Reference Guide. Westport, Conn. [u.a.] Greenwood Press 2003: Westport.

Wilson, August. Fences: a play. New York: Penguin Group, 1986.

Wilson, August. “Fences.” Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 2007. 787- 834.

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