What is unique about the play Topdog/Underdog?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What is unique about Topdog/Underdog is the fact that the author Suzan-Lori Parks writes about race relations as an internal one. Unlike a play such as Raisin in the Sun, which does, indeed, address the interrelationships of members of the African-American family,but also focuses upon the conflict of the Younger family against the whites who block their purchase of a house in a certain neighborhood, Topdog/Underdog portrays only intra-racial relationships. One reviewer of Parks's play, Robert Faivre, writes,

...when the systemic connection of the history of racial oppression to the class divisions in capitalism is becoming ever more evident, the play offers the view of a post-race society in which the logic of the systemic is displaced by the logic of the individual and hence the system is let off the hook.

Thus, the conflicts of Topdog/Underdog are solely individual: internal and external only so far as they are between brothers. For example, Lincoln tries to live a straight, honest life after his friend is shot, but Booth wants to "boost," or steal clothes and things as well as hustle and make fast money:

LINCOLN: One day I was throwing the cards. Next day Lonny died. Somebody shot him. I knew I was next, so I quit. I saved my life.

BOOTH: You was lucky with cards.

LINCOLN:  Lucky? Ain't nothing lucky about thuh cards...Cards is work...
I don't wanna lose my job.

In addition, the fact that these roles of the "emancipator" and the "assassin" are given to blacks rather than whites works upon the dynamics of inevitability or, at least chance. That there is a certain inevitability suggested by the brothers' names is true; nevertheless, Lincoln and Booth are afforded the chance to change the hand of fate. Thus, Faivre concludes.

...that the black Booth kills the black Lincoln in the end is explained through the logic that blacks have no one to blame but themselves for black on black violence...

In the end, therefore, Booth, like Cain, is individually responsible for his act of murder against his brother. His final realization that his act is solely upon him is expressed by the final line of the play: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

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