August Wilsons Fences

It is easy to make the case that August Wilson’s play Fences is a tragedy and that Troy Maxson is its tragic protagonist. Few comedies end with a funeral, and there is no denying that Troy’s character and life are the stuff of tragedy. But Wilson’s vision is much larger than Troy’s heroic side, his deeds and omissions. Troy, for all his strengths, is flawed humanity in need of grace and forgiveness.
Such grace and forgiveness are the spirit of true comedy, and a case can be made for viewing Fences as a comedy or, perhaps, a metacomedy. The term is taken from Christopher Isherwood, who took it from Gerald Heard: “I think the full horror of life must be depicted, but in the end there should be a comedy which is beyond both comedy and tragedy. The thing Gerald Heard calls ‘metacomedy’ […]” (421).
Metacomedy, then, is a vision that transcends the immediately comic or tragic. It is not evasive and it has room for pain, for heartache, for alienation, even for death, because it affirms the values of mercy, forgiveness, and sacrifice, which adversity calls
forth. For a religious person, metacomedy is what Christopher Fry called a “narrow escape into faith” and a belief in “a universal cause for delight” (17). Fry’s metaphor for life is a book of alternating pages of tragedy and comedy. As we read (that is, live) the book, we are anxious about what the last page will be. The comic vision holds that on the last page all will be resolved in laughter (17). The essence, therefore, of metacomedy is hope, and Fences is a lesson in hope.
First there is hope for a better future for African Americans and by extension, for all humankind. If we view Troy’s earthly life as an autonomous whole, we are looking at an ultimately tragic book of life. But if we view Troy’s life as a page in an ongoing saga,
perhaps we can see it not only as a prelude to a happier time but as a success story of itself. George Meredith advises us that to love comedy…

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