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August Wilson: American Playwright

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August Wilson

August Wilson was an American author and playwright who was born in Pittsburg Hills, Pennsylvania, US. Some of his most prominent works include a series of plays that were based on Pittsburg Hills. Wilson was born to an African American mother and a German immigrant.

His early childhood was characterized by economic challenges and his mother had a difficult time raising him and his other five siblings. Wilson’s father was absent from his upbringing which made his mother struggle to raise the family. Also, his Pittsburg Hills neighborhood was economically depressed in comparison to other parts of the United States.

The neighborhood was mostly dominated by black Americans. Most of August Wilson’s prolific works depicts tragic and comic aspects of the experiences of black Americans in the 20th Century. August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ accurate depiction of the African American community of the Pittsburg Hills District in the 1950s captures the spirit of black Pittsburg.

August Wilson had an immense contribution to the growth of the African American literature during his time. His neighborhood of Pittsburg had a low standard of living compared to other parts of suburban Pennsylvania. In fact, the setting of his plays is about this neighborhood and the difficult life of African Americans.

August Wilson life and times

August Wilson’s other name was Frederick August Kittel. He was born in 1945 in Pittsburg Hills, United States. He was a prolific playwright during his times of writing. Most of his works revolve around his black-American life. In this regard, Wilson won numerous Pulitzer prizes because of his outstanding literary works such as ‘The Piano Lesson’ and ‘Fences.’

His mother, Daisy Wilson, had the herculean task of providing for the family because Wilson’s father was unavailable for the family. The family later moved from the poor neighborhood to a more affluent suburb in Pittsburg where his mother remarried.

August Wilson had highly complex experiences of race when he was being raised. Most of his prolific plays focus on these depressing experiences. He was raised in a predominantly black neighborhood that was bordered by a white neighborhood. Wilson’s father was white, his mother black, while his stepfather was black.

His family faced challenges like racial segregation and threats. Also, he quit school at a very tender age because he was accused to have copied an examination . However, the disappointment to leave school at a tender age did not dampen his spirit of furthering higher education. Wilson embraced self-education and read extensively in public libraries.

In this regard, he received many awards during his colorful career such as Rockefeller fellowships. He greatly promoted the African American culture across the United States and his influence is still felt today.

History of the era and the setting

August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ is an accurate depiction of the African American community of the Pittsburg Hills District in the 1950s and captures the spirit of black Pittsburg. During this time, African Americans were highly oppressed and discriminated. There was racial segregation across the United States and Pittsburg Hills was a perfect example.

Pittsburg was a poor neighborhood whose neighbors were affluent whites (Furr, 20130. In Pittsburg, life was tough for black Americans. On the contrary, life for the whites in suburban Pennsylvania was characterized by opulence.

Wilson’s neighborhood of Pennsylvania was dirty and full of garbage everywhere. In fact, it was common to notice garbage collection trucks driving in the neighborhood. However, the garbage collection effort never made the neighborhood any cleaner. Also, the neighborhood had a polluted environment because of the mills that emitted their soot and fumes to the environment.

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‘Fences’ depicts blacks as rebels who were rising against white domination in the 1950s. Also, the book depicts blacks as people suffering from frustration because of years of racial segregation and economic oppression.

For many years, the black community felt insecure because of the economic deprivation that had gone on for so long. Also, African Americans lacked opportunities like employment which would have raised their standards of living.


Analysis of one or more main characters of the play

One of the most outstanding characters in ‘Fences’ is Troy Maxson who is a man with a tragic life.This character makes Maxson end up ruining his life and immense opportunities that come his way. Some of the most notable traits of Troy Maxson include selfishness and stubbornness

Although the US was a superpower, African Americans were still suffering from oppression and economic inequality. The black community felt oppressed and their thinking was that the whites were responsible for it.

‘Fences’ also depicts a lack of education for the black population.It made the blacks to be entangled in the vicious cycle of poverty since they could not attract any gainful employment. The black population of the 1950s had few choices of leading a meaningful life.

He also believed that other white children would not let his child play with them. At that time, football was a predominantly white affair and blacks had little or no chance at all. Some of the actions that Maxson took were both callous and cruel.

Another character in ‘Fences’ is Bono who happens to be Maxson’s best friend. Their friendship dates back since their prison life together. Also, the two men worked together as garbage collectors. They hang out together in Pittsburg and went to clubs indulging in alcohol every weekend.

Their drinking sessions highlight that Maxson was the one controlling the friendship. In this regard, Bono acted as a spanner boy for all the wrong deeds that Maxson did. Bono always sat around Maxson agreeing to everything he is told by his friend.

He also liked his friend so much and it’s the reason he always followed him. In fact, he says that he has learned a lot in life because of being Maxson’s close friend. Bono claims that Maxson taught him how to handle the challenges of life which greatly played a role in handling his hardships as a black man.

In conclusion, August Wilson is a highly significant prolific playwright who played an immense role in African American literature. Wilson depicted the lives of black Americans in the 1950s and captures the spirit of black Pittsburg. Pittsburg neighborhood in Pennsylvania was characterized by low standards of living.

The blacks in the 1950s were economically-deprived and experienced racial segregation. Suburban Pennsylvania was dominated by the whites and was characterized by affluence and opulence. Some of the best characters in the play ‘Fences’ include Troy Maxson and Bono. While Maxson is highly controlling and stubborn, Bono is calm and collected.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Uriel Kushiel

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