A fence is a structure that separates two areas, preventing people or animals from entering or leaving. This definition of the word fence plays a central role both metaphorically and realistically in the play "Fences," by August Wilson, and in the poem "Mending Wall," by Robert Frost. Fences is set in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s throughout 1965, this era of segregation is crucial for the character development of Troy the protagonist of the play. He is a garbage collector whose core values revolve around keeping his family together and providing for them. However, this is near-impossible due to the injustices of society. Throughout this play, the fence is specifically created with the goals to unite the Maxson family under the difficulties of overcoming this unfairness in society. Within "Mending Walls" two neighbors must meet every spring to patch any damage done to the wall. Over time the speaker begins to question why the wall must be constantly rebuilt but the traditional neighbor justifies the rebuilding through his reminder that "good fences make good neighbors". Similarly to Fences, "Mending Wall" identifies its main theme through the building of the fence (or wall.) Throughout both the poem and the play the central themes are established within the symbolism of the fence as change over time and unification from common struggle. .
Within Fences, Wilson clearly portrays dramatic character development over time within Troy and Cory, Troy's son. This character development occurs within the act of building the fence when Rose, Troy's wife, assigns Troy and Cory to build a fence around the house. The fence serves as the breakthrough for communication between Troy and his son Cory. However, despite Rose's good intentions the fence serves to both "keep people out" and "keep people in" (Wilson 61). Troy embodies the fence through his inability to accept the changes in the world around him.