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Last Updated on February 15, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 411

Topdog/Underdog features just two characters: Lincoln and Booth, African American brothers living in a sparsely furnished apartment without running water in an unnamed city.

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Lincoln, often referred to by Booth as “Link,” is the older brother by five years. Link is in his late thirties and used to be married to a woman named Cookie, but she slept with Booth and subsequently the two divorced. He plays the guitar and works as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. As an impersonator he dresses up in Lincoln attire, including whiteface, and sits quietly in the dark while people pay to come into the “theater” and shoot him with a prop gun. Link used to work on the streets as a successful card hustler, but he quit cold turkey after his close associate, Lonny, was shot and killed. He is the “topdog.”


Booth is the “underdog.” The younger of the two brothers, Booth is unemployed but desperately trying to teach himself three-card monte so that he can be a successful card hustler like his brother. Early on in the play he gives himself the nickname “3-Card” and threatens to shoot anyone who doesn’t call him by his new name, foreshadowing his irrationality and more violent instincts. He has been seeing a woman named Grace off and on for the last two years, and he is largely motivated to earn money so that he can impress her. Though he is not employed, he is the one who rents the apartment and controls its comings and goings.

Non-speaking Characters

Link and Booth are the only characters who speak in the play, but there are a handful of other characters who are referenced throughout and who influence the two brothers. Lonny was Link's closest associate when he was hustling cards on the street, but he was shot and killed one afternoon. They never learned who murdered him, and his death is the reason Link quit the card-hustling game. Cookie is Link’s ex-wife who cheated on him with a number of other men, including Booth. Oddly, neither brother speaks ill of her. Grace is Booth’s paramour, though the two seem to be constantly engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship. Booth shoplifts an engagement ring for her and prepares a formal dinner at his apartment, but Grace rebuffs all his advances. At the end of the play Booth becomes increasingly agitated by her disinterest and, off stage, goes to her house and shoots her.

List of Characters

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Last Updated on February 15, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1117

Best Customer

The Best Customer is a “miscellaneous stranger” who visits the arcade daily to shoot Honest Abe. The Best Customer “[s]hoots on the left whispers on the right.” Link is unsure whether the Best Customer, a black male, knows that Link is also a “brother.” The Best Customer utters cryptic messages that possess a quasi-metaphysical quality. He goes so far as to whisper a message in Honest Abe’s ear after he has been shot. Link does not think much of the Best Customer, though, ironically, he acknowledges that the Best Customer “makes the day interesting.” Booth, on the other hand, regards him as “one deep black brother.”


Booth is Link’s younger brother, who aspires to become a master of the three-card monte. He rents the room the brothers share, although he does not hold down a job. Instead, he earns his living as a petty thief. Booth tries to get Link to show him how to throw the cards, but Link refuses, which infuriates Booth. Booth believes that if he knew how to throw the cards, he could earn lots of money with which he could win Grace’s heart. Booth calls himself “3-Card” to bolster his confidence. However, Grace plays games with him and thus keeps him uncertain about their future. The frustration Booth feels as a result of these personal relationships finds an...

(The entire section contains 1528 words.)

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