The focus of Wilson's attention in Fences is Troy, a 53-year-old head of household who struggles with providing for his family. The play takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; although never officially named it makes mention to several key locations in Pittsburgh. Troy was a great baseball player in his younger years, having spent time practicing while in prison for an accidental murder he had committed during a robbery. Because the color barrier had not yet been broken in Major League Baseball, Troy was unable to make good money or to save for the future. (However, one line within the play does cast some doubt as to whether it was Troy's age, not his skin color, that kept him from becoming a professional baseball player.) He now lives a menial, though respectable life of trash collecting—remarkably crossing the race barrier and becoming a driver instead of just a barrel lifter. He lives with his wife, Rose, his son Cory (who still lives in the house at the play's opening), and Troy's younger brother Gabriel, an ex-soldier whose war injury to his head has caused him noticeable psychological damage. Lyons is Troy's son from a previous marriage, and lives outside the home. Bono is Troy's best friend. Troy had taken Gabriel's money that he'd been entitled to for his injury, and bought the house he currently lives in. A short time before the play's opening, Gabriel has rented a room elsewhere, but still in the neighborhood.

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