The play opens on a Friday in 1957. Troy Maxson and his friend, Jim Bono, have just finished a long day of work as garbage men and head to Troy’s porch for a drink. As they chat, Troy mentions he has spoken to his boss about the rule prohibiting black men from driving garbage trucks. Troy’s wife, Rose, joins them in the yard and announces that their son, Cory, has just been recruited for a college football team. Troy worries that black men will never be given a fair shot in the professional league, recalling how he was better than many professional baseball players but was never allowed to play.
Lyons, Troy’s son from a previous marriage, drops by the house. He knows its Troy’s payday and asks for a loan. Troy lectures Lyons to stop playing music and get a steadier job but gives him the money anyway.
The following morning, Troy’s brother, Gabriel, stops by for a visit. Gabriel used to live with Troy because a head injury from the war left him mentally incapacitated. But Gabriel recently moved in with a neighbor. Later that afternoon, Cory and Troy get to work building a fence around the yard. When Cory reveals that he is working only weekends because of football practice, Troy gets angry and threatens him: he must get his job back or he won’t be allowed to play football.
Two weeks later, Troy announces that he has been made a garbage truck driver. But the mood darkens when he learns that Cory has gone to football practice instead of work. Because Cory disobeyed him, Troy has cancelled the recruiter’s visit and told the coach that Cory is quitting. Livid, Cory shouts, “You just scared I’m gonna be better than you, that’s all!”
The following morning, Troy tells Rose that he’s been seeing another woman and she is pregnant with his child. Troy claims he doesn’t love Alberta, but when he’s with her he can escape his responsibilities. Frustrated, Rose responds that she also wishes for an escape but instead has always honored her marriage.
A tense six months of silence passes. When Rose finally speaks to Troy again, it is to tell him that Gabriel has been taken to an asylum. Though Troy claims he wouldn’t allow that to happen, Rose tells him she knows that he signed the papers. As they argue, news arrives that Troy has a new daughter, and her mother has died in childbirth.
Troy brings the baby, Raynell, home and asks that Rose help him raise the child. Rose relents but tells Troy, “This child got a mother. But you a womanless man.”
Two months later, life settles into a new routine. The fence around their home is finally finished. Cory has graduated and is looking for a job. Lyons returns the money he owes his father. Rose finds new community within her church. Even Bono has found new friends, since Troy is now on a different garbage route as a driver.
Isolated, Troy lashes out at Cory. Their fight turns physical, and Troy throws Cory out. Cory tells Troy he’ll be back for his things, but Troy tells him they’ll be on the other side of the fence.
Seven years later, Lyons, Bono, Cory and Rose have all gathered for Troy’s funeral. Cory has joined the Marines, Lyons is in jail and Raynell is a lively seven-year-old. Cory is conflicted about attending the funeral, but is finally convinced by Raynell, who innocently recalls the songs their father used to sing. At the last moment, Gabriel arrives despite worries that the hospital would not allow him to leave. Before they depart for the church, Gabriel shouts to the sky, asking that Troy be admitted into heaven.