Gabriel’s Transformation In the final scene of August Wilson’s Fences, Gabriel anticipates judgment day since act once scene two, far before the plot truly begins to unfold.
Although, when judgment day finally arrives, Gabriel’s experience is not at all what he expected. He blows his horn to open Heaven’s gates and there is only hopeless silence, but Gabriel falters only for a moment before he begins to dance. This dance is an act of reversion to his true heritage, to his ancestors who danced to transform pain and trauma to beauty and to conjure happiness and this theme can be found throughout the plot of Fences in the lives of other characters. When Gabriel attempts to blow his horn, it will not sound and it can be interpreted as Christianity failing him and this leaves Gabriel shocked, “There is a weight of impossible description that falls away and leaves him (Gabriel) bare and exposed to a frightful realization.”.(p101) Christianity, which his ancestors were indoctrinated with for centuries as they were forced to acclimate to American culture as slaves, had finally fallen through for Gabriel.
Because of this let-down, something deep within Gabriel, something so ancestral, something natural, awakens within him and he begins to dance. “A slow, strange dance, eerie and life-giving. A dance of atavistic signature and ritual.” This dance is an African tribal dance dating back to his ancestors. A beautiful form of expression borne of his ancestors being enslaved and the pain they endured.
In doing this, Gabriel channels the pain of being betrayed by Christianity and turns it into something nearly joyful and beautiful in the same way his ancestors used to, which in the end allows the gates to stand “open as wide as God’s closet.”. (p101) This same theme of deriving beauty or happiness from pain or hurt can be followed throughout Fences.
Take for example Troy’s infidelity. When he tells Rose about how he will soon be a father, she is hurt and in disbelief. Rose says, “I held on to you, Troy. I held you tighter.
You was my husband. I owed you everything I had. Every part of me I could find to give you.”(p71). Rose describes just how deep her devotion to Troy was and because it is obvious that Troy doesn’t exactly hold the same level of loyalty to Rose, the reader can feel just how much Rose is hurting. Even though Rose is wounded by this betrayal, she still takes in Raynell as her own child and a beautiful, motherly relationship blooms. Another instance of this recurring theme is Gabriel’s personal life.
Gabriel fought in World War One for a country that held prejudice against him. In itself, circumstances like these must be painful but he was also a victim of a head injury which left him with a metal plate in his skull and in an unusual mental state. This trauma that Gabriel endured helped him find joy through paralleling the Archangel Gabriel and gave him a sense of purpose. In act two scene two he describes some aspects of his purpose, “I’m gonna save them and buy me a new horn so St.
Peter can hear me when it’s time to open the gates…Hear that? That’s the hellhounds. I got to chase them out of here…”.(p27) Through this purpose Gabriel feels important and this brings him joy.
So, through his injury and trauma, he found happiness. Throughout Fences, the theme of transforming a source of pain and trauma to something of beauty and happiness can be seen frequently through the lives of the characters in the play, Rose and Gabriel to name a couple. But Gabriel’s final change, framed within the final scene of Fences, is the ultimate transformation that parallels through generations and climactically opens the gates of Heaven in the most unexpected way possible.