Analysis of Suzan-Lori Parks Topdog/ underdog
Analysis of Suzan-Lori Parks' â€œTopdog/ underdogâ€
Prompt 3: The Message of the Play
Suzan-Lori Park's play â€œTopdog/Underdogâ€ is about the live s of two African-American brothers in their early thirties, who gain money from hustling â€˜three card' games (Monte). The two brothers, Lincoln and Booth have become rivals of each other, in particular, the younger one (Booth) is very jealous of the elder (Lincoln), as he so bad wants to attain a level of social and economic status his brother once had because of playing â€˜Monte'. Booth is discontent with the life they are currently living, he is a common street thief while Lincoln works as Abraham Lincoln's impersonator in an arcade, where people get to fake assassinating the historical figure for some charge. This is despite him (Lincoln) being a skilled card player of â€˜Monte' and a former con artist. The two also share a room in a dilapidated boarding house. All in all, the playwright expresses a message in regards to the pursuit of achievement and success in life by people of minority groups- particularly Blacks in the American Society. The socio-economic situation in the country seems to inhibit and diminish the hopes of such people from finding meaning and success in their lives.
Parks' drama is sufficiently eloquent and expressive in depicting the plight of ordinary black people in America, most of who, on a personal level, struggle with palpitating emotions and intense unexpressed anger simply because they fail to find meaning in their lives. The playwright depicts that as a result, this group of people is left to seek gratification in undeveloped ways including engaging in petty crimes and dysfunctional relationships. Booth feels getting a job is associated with the fate of their parents relationship, he indicates that:
Like neither of them couldn't handle it no more. She split than he split. like thuh whole family mortgage bills going to work thing was just too much. And I dont blame them. You don't see me holding down a steady job. Cause its bullshit and I know it. I seen how it cracked them up and I ain't going there. (Parks, 1999. p72)
The relationship between the two brothers in the play is both complex and interesting. They often argue and insult each other, betray and swindle each other, but still find time to offer each other support, enjoyment and or encouragement. Lincoln even reaches a point of helping hi brother learn a few tricks of playing three card Monte. He explains to him that "There's 2 parts to throwing thuh cardsâ€¦ Both parts are fairly complicated. Thuh moves and the grooves, thuh talk and thuh walk, the patter and the pitter pat, thuh rap and thuh flap: what yr doing with yr mouth and what yr doing with yr hands" (79).Â
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Topdog/Underdog Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography and a Free Quiz on Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks.
Like the title suggests, Topdog/Underdog (published in 2001) is a play about competition, reversals, and mirror images that reflect the true self. The idea that became Topdog/Underdog can be found in one of Parks's earlier plays, The America Play (1995), which features a gravedigger named the Foundling Father whose obsession with Abraham Lincoln leads him to find work in a sideshow. Like Link in Topdog/Underdog, the Foundling Father applies whiteface, models several different types of fake beards, and sits in a chair awaiting visitors who pay to assassinate "Abraham Lincoln" with a cap gun. Though the Foundling Father and Link hold the same job, any similarities between these two protagonists end there. Regardless, Parks's fascination with history, especially personal history, and the ways in which illusion can reveal identity makes for riveting drama.
Topdog/Underdog tells the story of two brothers, Lincoln and Booth, who, abandoned by first one parent and then the other, have had to depend upon each other for survival since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the brothers struggle to make a new life, one that will lead them out of poverty. Lincoln, a master of the con game three-card monte, has abandoned a life of crime for a more respectable job impersonating Abraham Lincoln at an arcade. Booth, on the other hand, earns his living as a petty thief, one who wishes to emulate his older brother's success by learning how to "throw the cards." Throughout the play, the brothers compete against each other, vying for control. At any given moment, one may yield power over the other, only to relinquish it in the next. Hence, Topdog/Underdog reveals a topsy-turvy world in which Lincoln and Booth live, a chaotic world that is as dangerous as it is illusory.
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