The movie Fences should first be interpreted by its title. The fact it is called “Fences” vs “Fence” proves the symbolism of the fence works in various ways for different characters. The idea of leaving disliked things OUT and keeping needed things IN is the story’s overall running theme. The complicated character of Troy (DENZEL WASHINGTON) who struggled with personal issues used the fence mostly in keeping things OUT. It’s apparent that Troy’s ongoing conflict with racial discrimination his entire life could be taken as one of the many personal issues he needed to be fenced. The biggest examples of this would include not being able to reach his deserved professional baseball career because of racism as well as his initial racial struggles as a garbage collector in his present day. In continuing Troy’s theme of using the fence to keep things OUT, it shows that Troy chose to keep the things he could not control (such as race) out of his life while he is home. Troy also used the fence as a literal border in keeping his defiant son Cory out as well as his personal battle with death. Troy decided the night his mistress/mother of his illegitimate child died that he was going to create a physical barrier in protecting his family from death (by deciding to finish building the fence his wife had already asked of him).
On the other hand, Troy’s wife Rose (VIOLA DAVIS) used the fence to keep things IN. Suggesting her son and husband build it in the first place could have been her way of rebuilding their broken father-son bond. She maintained and did what was necessary in keeping her family together, despite her husband’s hardship and infidelity. The fence in her world may have represented unbearable STRENGTH in holding everything (including family) together within the walls of the fence.
The last and final character analysis is Gabriel, Troy’s brother. Gabriel was a happy-go-lucky former war veteran that functioned daily at minimum after enduring brain juries . Gabriel, who is non-coincidentally named after the archangel from the Bible, softens the complex spirit within Troy. Often entering scenes during heated arguments to lighten the mood (first introduced outside during the argument between Troy and Rose), Gabriel serves as an emotional relief for the people around him. For his brother Troy in particular, he served as his protector in a sense, warned him of demons and fought hell hounds on his behalf. These actions showed that Gabe wanted more for Troy (acceptance in heaven) than Troy realized for himself. It was as though Troy was too distracted with the things around him to even think about preparing his soul for heaven (which is mostly likely why Gabe felt the need to intervene). The day of Troy’s funeral, Gabe blew his trumpet (after failed attempts), to open the gates of Heaven for Troy. The skies brightened and the clouds separated proving Troy fulfilled his duty. Collectively, the religious aspect of Gabe showed that whether characters like Troy and Rose wanted to keep things OUT (of the fence) or leave them IN to deal with…..that metaphorically a fence is still only a temporary solution. In looking at the bigger picture, a person should realize that even the most complex problems of today mean nothing in eternity. Whether they are removed or saved in the moment, no side of the “fence” can be taken with you. Overall, the lessons taught by this movie’s “messenger” (Gabe), is to not dwell on trivial matters but understanding what is most important in life.