Suzan-Lori Parks' Play, Top-Underdog: An Analysis

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11/2/12

“Et tu Booth?”

In Suzan-Lori Parks play, “Top-Underdog” two brothers are shown in the same urban environment, yet they exhibit distinct differences in behavior and attitude. The audience or reader of the play is presented with the world of Lincoln and Booth, their current situation, and the way in which the two brothers react to the predicaments they are in. The dreams that one holds dear in such a situation are viewed as amoral and illegal to one in different circumstances and ones attempts to rise above such is often viewed as pathetic and demeaning. The play attempts to explain how two financially strapped brothers attempt to make it by in a world that has not been that kind to them.

Lincoln in the play can be described as a more reserved character based on his actions and words. His disposition varies greatly with that of his brother and also his prior life events have been different before the play. This establishment and experience benefits him towards the end of the play where he returns to his old ways. Booth attempts to become what Lincoln once was, but he is unsuccessful in his ventures because he has no prior knowledge or experience in hustling cards and living a life like the one Lincoln had prior. He attempts to emulate his brother and at the same time disrespects Lincoln at the same time. In the same respect Lincoln makes an honest attempt to rehabilitate his life and do honest work but, his efforts are in vain after he loses his job.

Violence in this play is prevalent whether off screen or in the actual apartment in which
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the action is happening. Fire arms are frequently carried by both of the characters in the play and in the first act, the audience witnesses that no individual is exempt from the direction the muzzle is pointing. Booth does not hesitate to pull a pistol on his only surviving family member minutes into the play, eluding to the ending of the last scene. This first instance of violence can be seen in the stage direction,” Booth, sensing someone behind him, whirls around, pulling a gun from his pants. While the presence of Lincoln doesn’t surprise him, the Lincoln costume does.”(Parks p.9). Violence is found in the past life of Lincoln also, when his partner was shot while he was hustling a game of cards. This event has been a factor to why Lincoln initially refuses to hustle cards at the beginning of the play. So, while Lincoln shows an aversion to violence in the play; his brother has had no prior convictions about using any means he desires when he feels threatened or frustrated.

Booth uses violence to attempt to solve all of his current problems at the ending of the play. Whether it is his only family member in the world or the woman he hopes to marry some someday, none are safe from this man once he feels they have cheated him in some way. This reaction of drawing a gun a loving one can be seen from the very beginning of the play and ultimately decides the action of the last scene. Booth is a character who actions are spontaneous and he does not always think things through before acting. The acts of violence shown by Booth can be interpreted as a sort of belated revenge towards his and Lincoln’s parents for having been abandoned in their youth. Booth feels like he has no other choice but, to pull out his gun and shoot after being rejected by Grace and preceding the loss of his inheritance to his older brother.

The inheritance that Booth receives in the play is a symbol of the trust between his mother and himself. He does not spend it since the disappearance of his mother and still keeps it wrapped in the packaging he received it in. He holds onto this package throughout the play

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because it is the only material object he has left from either of his parents since they abandoned him in his youth. In the play we can see that Booth has had no prior strong relationship with his...
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