August Wilson was one of the most revered scriptwriters of the 20th century. His magnum opus Fences is widely considered one of the greatest stage plays of all time. In 2016, more than ten years after Wilson’s death, Fences was produced as a feature film, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis starring in the leading roles. We’re going to break down the Fences script by looking at its characters, quotes, themes, and allegories. By the end, we’ll have a good grasp as to why Fences is considered such an important work.

Fences Script PDF Download

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WHO WROTE Fences SCRIPT?

Written by August Wilson

August Wilson was an award-winning American playwright who wrote more than a dozen original plays. His major work is referred to as The Pittsburgh Cycle — a series of ten plays that each take place during a different decade. The Pittsburgh Cycle addresses the unique experiences of African-Americans at different periods in the nation’s history.

STORY BREAKDOWN

STRUCTURE OF Fences SCREENPLAY

Here is the story structure for the Fences screenplay:

Exposition

Troy is a 53-year-old garbage collector who is weary of the world. After an upsetting day of work, Troy and his kindred co-worker Bono reflect on current affairs over a bottle of gin. 

Inciting Incident

Troy’s eldest son Lyons visits and asks for money. Troy scolds Lyons for visiting only when he needs money — meanwhile Troy’s current wife Rose offers sympathy to him. Troy reluctantly gives Lyons money but laments on how he’ll never get it back.

Plot Point One

The next morning, Troy’s brother Gabriel visits. Gabriel suffered a severe injury in World War II. As a result, both he and Troy live off the government pension. The neighborhood watches as Gabriel tells Troy that his name is written in the book of St. Peter and that he’ll be admitted to heaven upon death.

Plot Point Two

Troy and his son Cory work together to put up a fence up in the backyard. Cory expresses interest in leaving to play college football, a notion which Troy vehemently shuts down. 

Rising Action

Troy is granted a promotion at work — much to everyone’s surprise. Lyons pays back the money he borrowed — much to Troy’s surprise. Troy reflects back on the abuse he endured as a young man and explains why he’s so tough on his children. 

Midpoint

Troy tells Rose that he’s going to father another woman’s (Alberta) baby. Cory tackles Troy and the two get into a fight.

Build Up

Rose finds out that Troy committed Gabriel to a mental institution and took his military pension.

Climax

Alberta dies in childbirth. Rose agrees to raise the baby girl with Troy as long as he leaves her alone. After an intense fight with Troy, Cory leaves to join the Marines.

Denouement

Years later, the entire family gathers to lay Troy to rest. Before the procession leaves for the cemetery, Gabriel returns and tells St. Peter to open the gates of Heaven for his brother’s arrival. The clouds open up and the sun begins to shine.

Fences Script Takeaway #1

Fences characters are complex

One of the reasons why the Fences script works so well is because its characters are layered with complexity. Troy Maxson is a great character because he’s a walking contradiction. On one hand, he wants the best for his children. On the other, he prevents his children from success. It’s this very dichotomy that makes Maxson’s characterization so good.

Troy Maxson has been privy to some great performances over the years, from actors like James Earl Jones and Denzel Washington. Before Fences was a feature film, it was a Broadway play. James Earl Jones starred in the original 1987 run of Fences on Broadway. Washington starred in the play’s revival in 2010. Both actors received Tony awards for their performances.

We imported the Fences screenplay into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to see what drives Troy’s character. In this next scene, Troy shows how he often acts in direct opposition to what he wants.

As you’re reading, think about the metaphor of “fences” and why it’s important for Troy to work on the project with Cory.

Fences Plot Points: Metaphors in Action  •  Read the Fences Screenplay PDF

In many ways, Cory is a foil character for Troy — he exposes Troy’s jealousy. Troy never got the opportunity to be the sports star he wanted to be, which is something that weighs on him every day. When Troy learns that Cory was offered a scholarship to play college football, he responds with rage.

This scene is relayed expertly in the film. Let’s watch Denzel show his mastery in front of the camera:

Fences Script to Screen  •  “I ain’t got to like you”

The Fences characters are so full of life that it’s hard not to be drawn into their drama. It’s not just Troy either — every single one of the Fences characters represents something tangible, layered, and emotional. 

Fences Script Takeaway #2

Fences allegory and themes

The Fences screenplay is littered with allegory and biblical themes. We’re made aware of these references from the get-go when Troy describes his battle with death years prior to the events of the film. Let’s take a look at the scene in which Troy describes his battle with death. Pay special attention to how everything Troy says is layered with metaphorical meaning.

The battle between good and evil is the allegory at the heart of Fences. This allegory is communicated symbolically with biblical allusions, like references to the devil and the archangel Gabriel. One of the reasons why Fences is considered so good is because this allegory serves as a narrative throughline that connects themes from beginning to end.

Let’s watch the climactic scene where Troy is forced to wrestle with the devil inside himself.

Fences Movie Script to Screen  •  Fences ‘Death Knocks Again’

The fence itself is a metaphor for protection — but it’s also a metaphor for stagnation. Like Troy, this metaphor is double-edged and at war with itself. One could even argue that Troy is the fence personified.

Fences Script Takeaway #3

Fences quotes are memorable

There are so many great quotes in Fences — but hey, that should be expected of one of the best plays of all time. In Fences, August Wilson makes use of poetic dialogue from start to finish. He finds a rare balance between rhythm and meaning that’s hard to achieve. 

In this next scene, we see poetic dialogue put to use as Troy and Rose verbally spar. It’s incredibly hard to envision the rhythm of dialogue before you see it performed — but great writers almost always are able to communicate the intended rhythm in the script. Think about the rhythm of the dialogue as you read this scene with Troy and Rose.

I think the best thing Wilson does in this scene is bringing Gabriel into the middle of the conflict. His inclusion heightens the stakes of the scene and raises our discomfort level. It disrupts the rhythm between Rose and Troy’s dialogue — and it makes us feel like the conversation shouldn’t be happening in front of Gabriel. 

This scene was played excellently in the film by Washington, Viola Davis, and Mykelti Williamson. Let’s take a look.

Fences Synopsis  •  Watch the scene

Viola Davis won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Fences — and it’s not hard to see why. She takes Wilson’s script and makes it her own. Some of the best Fences quotes are spoken by Davis’ character Rose, like “I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams … and I buried them inside you.”

Here are some of the other best Fences quotes:

  • “Troy . . . Saint Peter got your name in the book. I seen it. It say . . . Troy Maxson. I say . . . I know him! He got the same name like what I got. That’s my brother!” - Gabriel
  • “Some people build fences to keep people out . . . and other people build fences to keep people in.” - Bono
  • “It’s not easy for me to admit I’ve been standing in the same place for eighteen years.” - Troy
  • “You can’t visit the sins of the father upon the child.” - Rose
  • “You got to take the crooked with the straights. That's what Papa used to say.” - Lyons
  • “When your daddy walked through the house he was so big he filled it up. That was my first mistake. Not to make him leave some room for me.” - Rose

UP NEXT

Read and download more scripts

We can learn a lot from August Wilson’s Fences script due to its complex characters, well-executed themes, and memorable quotes. If you want to continue reading screenplays, we have similar titles like 12 Angry Men, Casablanca, and Training Day in our screenplay database. Browse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.

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