No Signs of Escape: “Fences” and “King Hedley II”
Although August Wilson’s Fences does not display the degree of senseless violence as projected in King Hedley II, both exemplify the harsh circumstances of African American communities in the 1950’s and 1980’s, respectively. Wilson makes contrasts between his characters from these plays, such as King’s criminality and Cory’s inability to escape Troy, to underline the troubling regression of their environments. The author uses these characters to stress a sense of no escape, as if to say that there was almost no other option than for King to die from a bullet and Cory to run away. Although Cory appears to be significantly better off than King at the end their respective plays, they each succumb to society’s set limitations as a result of their efforts to escape them.
While King openly deliberates society’s unwillingness to let him grow, Cory’s family is unable to recognize that running away from Troy did not free him from the bleak fate Wilson illustrates in African American communities. Although King does not understand his protectiveness over his seeds or why he feels limited by society, Wilson utilizes his open frustration and recklessness to address the importance behind his restrictions. King does not know why Ruby complains about the quality of his dirt, but it reminds him of the other times that people have told him, one way or another, that he is not good enough. King cannot become better than society’s perception of him because of its bias toward his race, but in repeatedly breaking the law he unintentionally proves that their unjust opinions are correct. Ironically, both King and Cory find themselves limited by society and try to escape it, which leads them to do exactly what is expected. While Cory runs away from his physical obstacle, namely Troy, King conforms to the harshness of his environment. Unlike King in King Hedley II, the characters in Fences do not realize that society has prevented Cory from growing up freely. Although his mother and Bono appear impressed at his reasonable triumph, becoming a corporal in the marines in the amount of time that he had to advance is not as big of a feat as it appears. It is important to note that Cory’s job at the end of his play is appropriately much more respected and noble compared to King’s illegal scamming, because Cory is clearly the more reasonable character. However, the man Cory is when he returns does not align with the personality and dreams he had when he left. He returns as someone other than himself, an inevitable product of society, rather than the enthusiastic boy who wanted to play football. Wearing his country’s uniform also suggests that he is now obeying their rules and symbolically represents his conformity because society, whether it would like to admit it or not, has changed the young man.
Although both characters value the connection they share with their families, Wilson utilizes King’s inability to reach the same level of mature understanding as Cory to explain King’s irrational fixation over paternal figures. Wilson makes it clear that King rationalizes senselessly murdering Pernell through his self-assigned mission to give his scar meaning. In this sense, Cory although younger, exhibits a clearer ability to distinguish between right and wrong, which would make sense considering that he is doing well in school and is wanted for college football. However flawed King’s idea of meaning may be, it is enough of a justification for him to commit coldblooded murder, which indicates that it has more of a personal implication to his character. Wilson utilizes dramatic irony in the reveal of King’s father to underline the great value his character has towards his own familial roots, namely the paternal ones. Similarly, Cory appears to have a loving connection with his mother and later quickly develops one with his half sister simply because he realizes that they are family. King takes great pride in his bloodline and where he comes from because it provides meaning to his life. The reaction to the scar, therefore, has little to do with the wound and more to do with creating a closer link between him and his father. However, it is also important to note that King did not really know either of the men he thought he was related to at some point or another, but he still strives to resemble them in order to stand for something, anything. While Cory clearly favors his mother, notice that he does not attempt to become her the way King tries to become part of his father. Wilson does make parallels between father and son using Troy’s story of him standing up to his father as a boy and Cory standing up to Troy during the play. However, in Fences, Troy understands that he is not a good person and tries to make Cory everything he is not. Cory, although not interpreting his father’s actions as having good intentions, also recognizes the wrong in his father and strives to make sure he does not make the same mistakes, a lesson King will never learn.
Wilson introduces Cory’s search for guidance, and King’s ignorant lack of it, to emphasize the idea that regardless of their choices, both were unfairly limited as a result of their environments. It is clear that Cory envisions Troy as the main reason preventing him from achieving things he believes he can do, just as King chooses to blame society. However in leaving Troy, who Cory sees as a physical limitation, he also leaves parental guidance and support. King’s stride towards criminality expresses his need for support, along with his ignorance toward finding it. Instead of learning from his mistakes and the misfortunes of his predecessors, he chooses to ignore Tanya’s pleas for him to start obeying the law, claiming that he is never going to get caught. Although King’s experience in jail was meant to straighten him out, the only thing he learns is how to use the claim of self-defense to his advantage. Meanwhile, despite Cory’s animosity toward his father, once he is reminded of the aspect of family between him and Troy, Cory chooses to go to his father’s funeral; his inability to disobey his father, even though he is no longer around to refuse, relates to his contrasting need for guidance. It is important to note that Cory does not mention out loud that he misses his parents or that he suddenly understands why Troy treated him as strictly as he did, even when his mother attempts to explain his actions. Cory perceives him as a terrible father, although perhaps forgivable to an extent. More importantly, however, is where Cory goes once he is free from his father’s rule. After escaping his supervisory household, Cory enlists in the marines searching for guidance.
Wilson compares and contrasts characters such as Cory and King throughout his plays in order to rationalize that in a society that sets unassailable limitations on African American communities, every path is the wrong one. Cory ran away from home in order to redefine his character from his father’s command and went from one strict household to another. King believed he was never going to get caught in his illegal activity and ended up getting shot. It is important to note that King’s demise could be explained simply as a result of his recklessness and inability to rationalize. Therefore, Wilson utilizes Cory’s potential and willingness to get an education in Fences in order to indicate that there is a more complex reason that his characters have such constrained lives. Regardless of their temperaments and levels of maturity, Cory and King are part of a society that refuses to allow them to progress or improve their circumstances.
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Although August Wilson’s Fences does not display the degree of senseless violence as projected in King Hedley II, both exemplify the harsh circumstances of African American communities in the 1950’s […]