Themes and Meanings
The title of Suzan-Lori Parks’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama suggests a fundamental struggle for power between Lincoln (topdog) and Booth (underdog). The brothers have established a successful, though tenuous, symbiosis in their living arrangements at the play’s onset. Lincoln supplies the money and Booth provides what material comforts he can successfully steal. As the drama progresses, however, the prospects for their futures bring the siblings into conflict. Booth, the underdog, looks toward a future in the streets as a hustler of three-card monte. In contrast, Lincoln, the topdog, is satisfied with the modest earnings from his job at the arcade and has no wish to return to the streets. The prospective paths of each brother intersect when Lincoln loses his job, and with it the relative stability of the shared household. While Lincoln turns to his skills with the cards, Booth resorts to violence as an outlet for his physical and emotional anguish, first in the killing of his girlfriend, Grace, and finally in his assassination of his brother.
Parks also provides an unusual critique of history in the play. The conflict between Lincoln and Booth is a historical one. They remember their personal histories in different ways. Long-held animosities, buried through the intervening years, are eventually uncovered, compelling Lincoln and Booth to rethink their relationship throughout the play. However, Parks suggests that the conflict being played out between...
(The entire section is 491 words.)