The America Play

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

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The America Play: Act 2, Part G: The Great Beyond Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the television, “a replay of ‘The Lincoln Act’” plays, and onstage “The Foundling Father has returned,” but a “coffin awaits him.” Lucy says “Howuhboutthat!,” and Brazil points out that “they just gunned him down uhgain,” so “he’s dead but not really.” Actually he’s “only fakin” and “hesupuhgain.” But the television’s “sound duhnt work.”
Parks boldly blurs the lines between life and death (and reality and representation) even further by bringing the Foundling Father back to stage. Somehow, he is at once already dead, about to die, and fully alive—and he is both represented on television and physically present on stage, as though his image has summoned him back to life.
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Suddenly, the Foundling Father says that he “believe[s] this is the place where [he] do[es] the Gettysburg Address,” and Brazil and Lucy are surprised and confused—although Lucy promises Brazil that “he’s dead.” After some blank lines, Brazil asks about “the in-vites,” and Lucy says she sent them, and “hundreds upon thousands who knew of [his] Daddy” will want to come “to pay their respects.” “Howuhboutthat,” says the Foundling Father, and then Brazil. Lucy asks when the Foundling Father plans to “get in [his] coffin,” but he says he wants “tuh wait uhwhile.” Brazil promises to “gnash for [his Pa],” and the Foundling Father asks about his casket, which Lucy says will be “Closed.” She tells Brazil to turn off the television.
When the Foundling Father returns, he falls straight back into his Lincoln impersonation, which makes it unclear whether he is actually on the same plane of reality as Lucy and Brazil—or if he simply takes no interest in them. Either way, he begins performing his act out of compulsion, because “this is the place where” he is supposed to, and not because he has any desire to recite the Gettysburg Address. This compulsive repetition again suggests that, because he continues to define himself through the figure of Lincoln, he has lost track of his own identity and desires. Brazil’s promise to “gnash” is similarly out of obligation—he will act out the “gnash” as a mourner, not actually “gnash” because of how he feels about his Pa. And Lucy’s commentary on the funeral and the casket—which appear to be Lincoln’s as much as the Foundling Father’s—is similarly automatic and impersonal, the performance of a duty rather than the expression of a feeling or connection.
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The Foundling Father asks Brazil and Lucy for a hug, but neither is ready yet. There is another echo of a gunshot, and Lucy comments on how “That gunplay […] Comes. And goze.”  She and Brazil prepare the coffin, which the Foundling Father “inspects.” Lucy muses about “thuh Original Great Hole,” where one could “see thuh whole world,” including the life of “someone from History,” who is both “Like you” and “not you.” The Foundling Father blurts out: “Emergency, oh, Emergency, please put the Great Man in the ground.” Lucy tells him to enter the coffin, which fits snugly. The Foundling Father requests another hug, but again, Brazil and Lucy aren’t ready yet. Lucy remarks that Pa “loved that Great Hole” so much that he “digged this lookuhlike.” Brazil asks if “then he died?” and Lucy replies, “Then he died.” There is a long silence.
The Founding Father suddenly breaks character by requesting a hug: at last, he seems interested in reconnecting with he family he abandoned, or reuniting with them at least symbolically. But the fact that Lucy and Brazil reject him reflects as much the enduring wounds he has left them with as the different planes of reality they seem to occupy (the Foundling Father is undead, while Lucy and Brazil are trying to put him to rest, once and for all—a desire that the Foundling Father echoes with his “Emergency” line). Lucy’s comments on the Great Hole of History make the Foundling Father’s tenuous relationship to history explicit: it has inspired him, but he wrongly hopes to join it by impersonating it—by following the Great Hole’s mythology of history as a parade—rather than making his own mark on the world and speaking in his own unique voice. The Foundling Father continues to be both dead in the past and alive in the present, with the play’s timeline proving unintelligible in the ordinary terms of sequential narrative.
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The Foundling Father declares that, on this “momentous occasion,” he wants “to say a few words from the grave,” or even have “a little conversation.” It’s “a long story,” but it only lasts a few lines: “I quit the business. And buried all my things. I dropped anchor: Bottomless. Your turn.” But Lucy and Brazil do not reply for some time—until Lucy asks the Foundling Father to act out Lincoln for Brazil, who “was only 5” when the Foundling Father left. The Foundling Father starts talking about how “very loverly [it is] to be here” in “Wonderville,” and throws in a few Lincoln quotes, like “4score and 7 years ago our fathers—ah you know thuh rest.” Finally he proclaims “The Death of Lincoln!” and starts guffawing—then there is a gunshot, and “The Foundling Father ‘slumps in his chair.’”
The Foundling Father takes another remarkable step here: he leaves character, if only for a moment, to tell the short “long story” of what happened to him after he gave up on the Lincoln Act. He admits that, having abandoned his family, he was nothing without Lincoln—and Lucy affirms this by asking him to perform the Gettysburg Address for Brazil, because Lincoln is the only interesting or defining thing about him. Then, he blurs the line between reenactment and reality by appearing to actually die during “The Death of Lincoln!”—in other words, the Foundling Father becomes defined by his failure to become Lincoln, but then seemingly unites with the Great Man only through his in death. In fact, nobody fires the gun that kills the Foundling Father—he appears to die from the echoing gunshot, which may be taken as a metaphor for how the past can reach out to influence the present.
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After a pause, Brazil asks if the Foundling Father has died, but Lucy says she has “nothin.” Brazil starts telling Lucy’s story: she was “with her Uncle when he died,” and her family asked her for her uncle’s last words, even though “theyre hadnt been any.” So when she didn’t say anything, her family declared she was “uh Confidence. At the age of 8. Sworn tuh secrecy.” Brazil asks if he should “gnash now,” but Lucy says to “save it for thuh guests,” and just “dust and polish” in the meantime.
Lucy and Brazil remain stubbornly unable to make sense of the Foundling Father’s mysterious reappearance, which leaves it to audiences and readers to fill in the blanks and decide if the Foundling Father has truly died, simply appeared as an echo or ghost to reenact his earlier death, or just performed a particularly convincing reenactment of the Lincoln assassination. As any actual remorse he feels mixes with his sense of duty as a professional mourner, Brazil is not sure whether he must perform to adequately honor his departed father. And with this father gone, Brazil begins narrating his mother’s past as though trying protect her and keep her alive by pinning down the narrative of her life.
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Brazil announces, “Welcome Welcome Welcome to thuh hall. Of. Wonders.” He starts describing the wonders, exactly as he did earlier: there is the jewel box with “A.L.,” “Mr. Washingtons bones and […] wooden teeth,” the Lincoln bust and the various medals for at least a dozen different accomplishments like “bravery and honesty,” “knowledge of sewin” and, of course, “fakin.”
Having apparently inherited his father’s stage in the replica of the Great Hole and job as a performer, Brazil introduces his “Wonders” show exactly as before: beyond recalling his father’s Lincoln Act, this recurrence emphasizes how Brazil sees history as static and unchanging, rather than capable of adapting to the needs of the people who narrate and learn about it.
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Finally, Brazil points to “our newest Wonder: One of the greats Hisself!” He tells the audience to “Note” how the Foundling Father’s body is “propped upright in our great Hole,” with his mouth opened, dressed like Lincoln, with “thuh great black hole in thuh great head,” which is bleeding. He tells them to “Note: thuh last words.—And thuh last breaths.—And how thuh nation mourns—” and then he leaves, and the play ends.
By turning the Foundling Father into one of his “Wonders,” Brazil comments on the way history is memorialized: rather than being allowed to speak to and inspire the living, they are dressed up in costumes preserved as immobile images and gawked at. Indeed, this closing scene recalls the Foundling Father’s own line about “gawk[ing] at the Great Mans corpse” near the beginning of Act 1: now that the audience does the same to him, it is clear that—from the outside, at least—he has achieved the unity with Lincoln in the realm of “History” that he always wanted. But, to get here, he had to die and become nothing more than an immobile object that represents something else. Brazil’s final words also echo the Foundling Father’s eulogy for Lincoln during the second “echo” scene in this act, which at once establishes the Foundling Father’s unity with Lincoln and Brazil’s unity with his father. Ultimately, the Foundling Father never appears to get the “proper burial” that Brazil and Lucy sought out for him; instead, he is left outside of his coffin in a hole too big for his body. However, it is also possible that this “proper burial” truly has to do with Lucy and Brazil doing their part as family members (and as a mourner and a Confidence) to ensure that the Foundling Father does not truly die alone and unremembered. In this sense, perhaps it is more “proper” for the Foundling Father to remain in this replica Great Hole and represent Lincoln in death, as he did in life.
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