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Language Arts examines historical trauma

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Fences  by August Wilson

“From the beginning, I decided not to write about historical events or the pathologies of the black community. The details of our struggle to survive and prosper, in what has been a difficult and sometimes bitter relationship with a system of laws and practices that deny us access to the tools necessary for productive and industrious life, are available to any serious student of history or sociology.” - August Wilson -


As we have explored thus far, there is a danger in having a single story. We have discovered the multitude of narratives and identities that have created the story of the United States of America. We pushed backed against “the single story” when we highlighted the stories of our local community in the Humans of South project. We deconstructed “the single story” of the criminal in the U.S. system of incarceration. Our stories help to inform and describe the inequities of the world into which we are born. In America we are imprisoned or free both literally and figuratively, and oftentimes these conditions are inherited based on our race, class, gender, religion, or ethnicity. Although the United States of America was founded upon ideals which claim to believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of ”, in reality, these goals and dreams are not attainable for large portions of people who live in the United States of America. In fact, quite often the institutions of our country (schools, government, etc.) are the very tools used to oppress specific types and categories of people.  This has been true throughout our history and it is still true today.


In August Wilson’s Fences, we will explore the Maxsons, an African-American family, as they navigate the conditions of the United States in the 1950s. Troy, Cory, Rose, Lyons, Raynell, and Jim experience how fences keep people in and keep people out. Through all of this we get to see their story. We see how their family dynamic changes. We see an African American family struggle with historical trauma . We see how they deal with society telling them what they can and cannot do based on their race. And throughout the entire play, we learn and explore August Wilson’s narrative of the United States and many themes that he underlines.


Unit Essential Questions

How does the U.S. American experience both unite and divide us?

What is institutionalized racism and its legacy on the individual, the family, and society?  

  • On someone trying to define themselves?  

  • What are the effects of institutionalized racism on Americans of African descent who try to define themselves in modern American society?

What is our responsibility to ourselves vs. our family and/or society?

Literary Study Essential Questions

What can we learn about the American Experience through August Wilson’s Fences?

How does August Wilson’s play Fences capture the black experience in the 1950s?

What can we learn about history and culture from drama?

What are the universal themes in Fences, and how do the events and characters in the play illuminate or embody those themes?