The America Play

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The America Play can help.

The America Play: Act 2, Part C: Archaeology Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Brazil asks if Lucy “hear[s] im,” and Lucy presents a taxonomy of kinds of echoes: there are echoes of “thuh sound” and echoes of “thuh words,” including two types: “thuh words from thuh dead. Category: Unrelated.,” and “thuh Disembodied Voice” or “Thuh Whispers,” which are “Related. Like your Fathuhs.” And there are echoes of “thuh body itself.” Brazil says Lucy must hear Pa, but she says she “Cant say.”
Because readers and audience members cannot know if Lucy and Brazil also just saw the same “Echo” scene, they are forced to make sense of Lucy’s “Cant say” on both registers at once: perhaps her action with Brazil is uninterrupted, and she simply continues to listen for “echoes” without much luck, or perhaps she saw the “Echo” scene but cannot be sure that it was really the Foundling Father’s true self—whatever she deems this to be—onstage. While the source of these echoes remains ambiguous, then, Lucy’s taxonomy of echoes is rigid and clearly defined. This again shows that she has no doubt about the dead’s capacity to haunt and speak to the living.
Themes
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Brazil talks about his “faux-father,” who came West alone, his “Daddy,” who is “one of them.” Lucy has a blank line and rests, and Brazil repeats that “He’s one of them,” and clarifies that he is talking about “All of them who comed before us.” He compares “thuh creation of thuh world” to “him digging his Hole”—people “had tuh hit thuh road,” and with a “bang,” “those voids that was here” suddenly became theirs. He decides that “This Hole is our inheritance of sorts,” and that Lucy will leave it to him when she passes. Lucy tells him to dig, but he decides to “dust and polish” instead and “puts something on.” She agrees that he can, but she says he “dont got tuh put on that.”
The homophonous pun “faux-father”—which is distinguishable on the page but likely not in speech—again plays not only with the distance between original sources and onstage reinterpretations of them, but also with the authenticity of Brazil’s tie to the father who has essentially abandoned him. When he uses the metaphor of American Westward migration to link this specific “faux-father” to his ancestors more generally, he shifts from talking about family to talking about history—not only that of America, but also that of the entire “world,” out of a “void.” From all these predecessors, then, Brazil inherits only emptiness: his father has left him no meaningful relationship (and a big hole in the ground), the United States has left him a legacy of trauma and oppression, and the universe has left him without any clear sense of his meaning or place in history.
Themes
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Brazil clears his throat and announces, “WELCOME WELCOME WELCOME TUH THUH HALL OF—” but Lucy shushes him. He repeats this in a lower voice and starts describing the “Wonders”: the jewel box carved with “A.L.” that he dug up, “one of Mr. Washingtons bones,” and his “wooden teeth” or “nibblers” (which better “quit that nibblin”). There’s the Lincoln bust, a glass bead, some “lick-ed boots,” and dried “whales blubber.” There are documents from “peace pacts” to “declarations of war,” and medals for everything from “bravery and honesty” to “knowledge of sewin” and even “fakin,” which Brazil concludes must be Pa’s. Over Lucy’s protests, he starts weeping uncontrollably. Lucy comforts him, reminding him that “it is an honor to be” a son to his father, the “Digger” who loved “Mr. Lincoln” and “dug this whole Hole.” Brazil repeats each of these things after her, and they trade a lengthy silence.
Brazil may not realize it, but he also inherits his father’s theatricality and attitude toward history, in addition to the Great Hole: he introduces his “Hall of Wonders” with the same carnivalesque enthusiasm that won Pa his medal for “fakin,” and he also hopes to use his attraction to tell the story of American history. This “Hall of Wonders” implies that its things are just as otherworldly and “wonder”-ful as the Great Hole’s reenactors are heroic, untouchable, and “great.” In reality, of course, history results from the acts of mere human beings, and so the Hall of Wonders and Great Hole both wrongly turn history into a spectacle (to marvel at) and a commodity (to pay for) rather than taking history seriously as the product of human actions that continue to affect the present. Of course, the “Wonders” themselves add another level of irony: the so-called jewel box is actually the box that the Foundling Father used to keep his Lincoln beards, and it is obvious that the other “Wonders” are equally inauthentic—they are real artifacts of history only in the sense that they are part of the Foundling Father’s story.
Themes
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Lucy tells Brazil that she “couldnt never deny [Pa] nothin” and gave him “Thuh moon. Thuh stars. / Thuh bees knees. Thuh cats pyjamas.” After a silence, Brazil asks if she really means “anything,” and she replies, “stories too horrible tuh mention.” But they are not Pa’s. Brazil admits to Lucy that he misses his Pa, saying, “—Imissim—.”
Lucy’s speech suggests that there was something sinister, exploitative, or even traumatic about her relationship to Pa, even though she also seems to have loved him. She never explains this outright, instead leaving the audience with the same sense of confusion and ambiguity that she clearly feels about her family. Brazil also reveals his complex feelings about family here: while the Foundling Father is clearly significant to him, it is not clear whether he truly “miss[es]” his Pa in an emotional sense, because he essentially never knew the man. “—Imissim—” might just as well be a strict statement of fact—Pa is literally missing from Brazil’s life—as an expression of familial love.
Themes
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Get the entire The America Play LitChart as a printable PDF.
The America Play PDF