The Use Of Religion In August Wilson's Fences
In the play, Fences, the main character Troy Maxson is by nowhere near a religious man. Troy has created his own philosophies, especially with baseball, through his own definition of religion. Sandra G. Shannon’s interpretive examination of, ‘The Good Christian’s Come and Gone: The Shifting Role of Christianity in August Wilson Plays,’ gives analogies of the way Troy deals with his own spirituality and struggles.
It is easy to agree that Troy, like other characters in Wilson’s stories, deals with religion in his own way. Shannon argues, ‘this cynical black man does not lay his burdens down at the church’s altar. As is the case with each of Wilson’s men, Christianity plays no role in Troy’s search for comfort and direction’ (382). Troy never does find his comfort and direction, even in baseball. It could be that Troy finds his greatest comfort in the blues. Shannon states that, with the help of blues, Troy feels as if he can communicate and fix his emotional wounds with the sound of song.
Shannon explains Wilson justified the need for the blues in an interview with Bill Moyer. Wilson states, ‘The blues are important primarily because they contain the cultural response of blacks in America to the situation that they find themselves in. Contained in the blues is a philosophical system at work’ (382). It is true that for Troy the two systems of the blues and Christianity can in no way co-exist with each other.
It’s also true that Troy doesn’t openly ignore the church, but he does make it obvious in his own way that he is clearly an atheist. ‘While Christianity does not interest Troy, he adopts the game of baseball as a more relevant metaphor for his life’ (Shannon 382). Shannon is totally right in the fact that Troy uses baseball as a religion. Shannon states that the rules of the game become Troy’s Bible.
Shannon brings that to light, when, to save his marriage Troy uses baseball slang and traditional ethics of the game to substitute what might have been a prayer to God (383). Troy pushes his wife and his son out of his life by attempting to make them see this life in a very narrow perspective. By doing this ‘he cannot compromise, nor can he ask for forgiveness,’ (Shannon 383).
It is also apparent, Shannon states, that Troy fits death into his baseball analogy as well. Sandra states, ‘Seen this way, its hold becomes less ominous when the victim has a role in determining his own fate’ (383). I agree with this statement because Troy uses baseball to feel comfort. Therefore, death is what he uses for an uncomfortable situation. Troy is unlike others who may find reassurance in God when it comes to the question of death. Shannon also states that Troy describes death as ”a fastball on the outside corner” (383). Shannon is right by stating this because through baseball, Troy does not have to deal with death on a Christian level. He can personalize it to something he is comfortable talking about. This point is also proven in a quote Shannon put in her essay from the book Wrestling Against History by Mei-Ling Ching, ‘ ‘Through his intentional mockery of death, [Troy] cleanses himself of his deepest fear and reaffirms his claim to life” (383).
In addition, Troy’s relationship with his brother Gabriel is another time Troy is faced with religion and denounces it. Gabriel, who believes he is the Archangel and a spokesman of God, is treated unfairly by Troy. Shannon also believes this and states that the character of Gabriel is set up as an antithesis of Troy (383). ‘Thus, by examining the many opposite features of Troy’s relationship with Gabriel, one may measure the extent to which he has fallen from grace’ (Shannon 383). By ignoring Gabriel and his claims about the pearly gates, Troy is impudently denouncing Christianity. Shannon writes, ‘During the few times when Troy does engage in conversation with him (Gabriel), he does so with obvious indifference’ (383).
In addition, Shannon states Gabriel provides Troy with his financial base. Alberta, the women that the cheats with, gives Troy an unconditional physical and emotional relationship (384). ‘Troy understandably thinks he does not need any divine inspiration when such human substitutes are available’ (Shannon 384). Shannon is correct in her thoughts about Troy and fulfilling his needs through other people.
In conclusion, I believe Shannon strongly makes her points about Troy’s hatred to Christianity. Sandra sums up her claim by stating, ‘When African American men like Troy did fall into the depths of depression, they didn’t reach for the Bible. They created their own convenient laws of behavior,’ (384). This is expressive of Troy in every way he deals with work, family, and death. I agree with her in the sense that Christianity taps at Troy’s door just like death, and he uses it to fit into his philosophies
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