The America Play

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

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Abraham Lincoln Character Analysis

The president of the United States from 1861-1865, who is still considered one of the greatest American political leaders in history, and who is a central reference throughout The America Play, specifically for Parks’s protagonist, the nameless African American Lincoln reenactor called the Foundling Father. Born to a modest farming family in Kentucky, Lincoln essentially never went to school, but he managed to eventually educate himself and become an attorney and member of the House of Representatives. A staunch opponent of extending slavery to newly admitted American states, his election to the Presidency in 1960 spurred the Civil War, with the South seceding and taking up arms to preserve slavery. For the next four years, he took a guiding role in the Union forces’ fight against the Confederacy, and he remains best remembered for delivering the Gettysburg Address and signing the Emancipation Proclamation during this period. He was famously assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth while watching the play Our American Cousin in April 1865, just days after leading the Union to victory in the Civil War. Lincoln’s assassination is repeatedly reenacted during The America Play, as the Foundling Father makes a living by charging people to dress up as Booth and shoot him with an unloaded gun. The play speaks to how Lincoln has become mythologized in American popular culture as a liberator of slaves, principled leader, and gifted orator, but also points to the deeper and more complicated truths that these simple myths belie.

Abraham Lincoln Quotes in The America Play

The The America Play quotes below are all either spoken by Abraham Lincoln or refer to Abraham Lincoln. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Theatre Communications Group edition of The America Play published in 1994.
Act 1: Lincoln Act Quotes

There was once a man who was told that he bore a strong resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. He was tall and thinly built just like the Great Man. His legs were the longer part just like the Great Mans legs. His hands and feet were large as the Great Mans were large. The Lesser Known had several beards which he carried around in a box. The beards were his although he himself had not grown them on his face but since he’d secretly bought the hairs from his barber and arranged their beard shapes and since the procurement and upkeep of his beards took so much work he figured that the beards were completely his. Were as authentic as he was, so to speak. His beard box was of cherry wood and lined with purple velvet. He had the initials “A.L.” tooled in gold on the lid.

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln
Related Symbols: The Lincoln Beards
Page Number: 159-160
Explanation and Analysis:

“You sockdologizing old man-trap!”

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

Emergency oh, Emergency, please put the Great Man in the ground.”

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Mary Todd Lincoln (speaker), Abraham Lincoln
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

Everyone who has ever walked the earth has a shape around which their entire lives and their posterity shapes itself. The Great Man had his log cabin into which he was born, the distance between the cabin and Big Town multiplied by the half-life, the staying power of his words and image, being the true measurement of the Great Mans stature. The Lesser Known had a favorite hole. A chasm, really.

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln
Related Symbols: The Great Hole of History
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

The Lesser Known had under his belt a few of the Great Mans words and after a day of digging, in the evenings, would stand in his hole reciting. But the Lesser Known was a curiosity at best. None of those who spoke of his virtual twinship with greatness would actually pay money to watch him be that greatness. One day he tacked up posters inviting them to come and throw old food at him while he spoke. This was a moderate success. People began to save their old food “for Mr. Lincoln” they said. He took to traveling playing small towns. Made money. And when someone remarked that he played Lincoln so well that he ought to be shot, it was as if the Great Mans footsteps had been suddenly revealed.

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

(A Man, as John Wilkes Booth, enters. He takes a gun and “stands in position": at the left side of the Foundling Father, as Abraham Lincoln, pointing the gun at the Foundling Father’s head)
A MAN: Ready.
THE FOUNDLING FATHER: Haw Haw Haw Haw
(Rest)
HAW HAW HAW HAW
(Booth shoots. Lincoln “slumps in his chair." Booth jumps)
A MAN (Theatrically): “Thus to the tyrants!”
(Rest)
Hhhh. (Exits)

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln (speaker), John Wilkes Booth (speaker)
Page Number: 164-165
Explanation and Analysis:

The Great Man lived in the past that is was an inhabitant of time immemorial and the Lesser Known out West alive a resident of the present. And the Great Mans deeds had transpired during the life of the Great Man somewhere in past-land that is somewhere “back there” and all this while the Lesser Known digging his holes bearing the burden of his resemblance all the while trying somehow to equal the Great Man in stature, word and deed going forward with his lesser life trying somehow to follow in the Great Mans footsteps footsteps that were of course behind him. The Lesser Known trying somehow to catch up to the Great Man all this while and maybe running too fast in the wrong direction. Which is to say that maybe the Great Man had to catch him. Hhhh. Ridiculous.

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln
Page Number: 170-171
Explanation and Analysis:

LINCOLN
BOOTH
LINCOLN
BOOTH
LINCOLN
BOOTH
LINCOLN
BOOTH
LINCOLN

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln (speaker), John Wilkes Booth (speaker)
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Part G: The Great Beyond Quotes

BRAZIL: Mail the in-vites?
LUCY: I did.
BRAZIL: Think theyll come?
LUCY: I do. There arc hundreds upon thousands who knew of your Daddy, glorified his reputation, and would like to pay their respects.
THE FOUNDLING FATHER: Howuhboutthat.

Related Characters: Brazil (speaker), Lucy (speaker), The Foundling Father (speaker), Abraham Lincoln
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

To my right: our newest Wonder: One of thuh greats Hisself! Note: thuh body sitting propped upright in our great Hole. Note the large mouth opened wide. Note the top hat and frock coat, just like the greats. Note the death wound: thuh great black hole — thuh great black hole in thuh great head. —And how this great head is bleedin. —Note: thuh last words. —And thuh last breaths. —And how thuh nation mourns —
(Takes his leave)

Related Characters: Brazil (speaker), The Foundling Father, Abraham Lincoln, Lucy
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The America Play LitChart as a printable PDF.
The America Play PDF

Abraham Lincoln Character Timeline in The America Play

The timeline below shows where the character Abraham Lincoln appears in The America Play. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1: Lincoln Act
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Dressed as Abraham Lincoln, the Foundling Father utters a series of cryptic, chiasmic phrases, and “takes a “rest” between... (full context)
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The Foundling Father speaks of a man who looked like Abraham Lincoln—he shared “the Great Mans” long legs and big hands and feet. The man carries a... (full context)
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...our story if” the Lesser Known got to bury the Great Man—he imagines Mary Todd Lincoln saying, “Emergency, please put the Great Man in the ground,” and digresses about Lincoln’s family... (full context)
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“It would help,” the Foundling Father continues, if Mary Todd Lincoln had “summoned” the Lesser Known to go “gawk at the Great Mans corpse.” But he... (full context)
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After a pause, the Foundling Father declares that all lives have their “shape”—Lincoln moved from “his log cabin” to the “Big Town,” and is remembered through “his words... (full context)
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...not softer.” (He shows the audience his yellow “fancy beard,” which “deviate[s] too much” from Lincoln’s dark hair to convince his audience.) All alone, he continues, “the Lesser Known […] went... (full context)
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Each evening, the Foundling Father “would stand in his hole reciting” Lincoln quotes and wondering if he could get paid to impersonate him. He decided to try... (full context)
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...say “The South is avenged!” (which are John Wilkes Booth’s other alleged words after killing Lincoln). (full context)
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...same man enters dressed as John Wilkes Booth, the Foundling Father laughs, “Booth shoots,” and “Lincoln ‘slumps in his chair.’” This time, the man yells “The South is avenged!” and then... (full context)
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The Foundling Father explains that he is putting on Lincoln’s “beard of uncertainty,” the one he used in the early days of the Civil War.... (full context)
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The Foundling Father continues talking about details of the murder (the distance Lincoln and the stage, the people sitting with him, the principal actress of Our American Cousin,... (full context)
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Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
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...decides that it is time to “wear the yellow beard,” for “variety.” He notes that Lincoln did not really wear his famous hat indoors, “but people dont like their Lincoln hatless.”... (full context)
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...repeats that he records his life, in case “posterity” cares about him and nods to Lincoln. (full context)
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The Foundling Father contrasts the Great Man ’s life in “time immemorial” with his own in the present, which has become an... (full context)
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...Father, then yells “Thus to the tyrants!” After a long, unwritten “spell”—the dialogue just says “LINCOLN” and “BOOTH” over and over, with blank lines for each of them—Booth leaps and declares... (full context)
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...just crumples,” in contrast, “The Greater Man continues on.” The Foundling Father repeats Mary Todd Lincoln’s “Emergency” line, then mentions his “ringing in the ears” and “slight deafness,” and finally proposes... (full context)
Act 2, Part A: Big Bang
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...showed up in the Great Hole of History, then recalls that his Pa did “Mr. Lincolns last show” and came West to “build uh like attraction.” (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...“Hellooooo!” Later, Brazil yells “HO!” and pulls out “Uh Wonder!” It’s the bust of Abraham Lincoln. Lucy exclaims, “Howuhboutthat!” After a silence, she hears something, but “cant say” what. She tells... (full context)
Act 2, Part C: Archaeology
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...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... (full context)
Act 2, Part D: Echo
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...for having him. Then, he breaks out into his “crowd pleaser,” the first sentence of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address (“4score and 7 years ago,” and so on). He names states and... (full context)
Act 2, Part E: Spadework
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...Lucy quiz each other on about a dozen state capitals, until they get to “Nebraska. Lincoln.” Lucy pauses and then starts explaining how Pa “couldnt get that story out of his... (full context)
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...“running through his states and capitals! Licketysplit!” And perhaps, Lucy continues, he'd repeat his favorite Lincoln quotes, like “uh house divided cannot stand!” and “4score and 7 years uhgoh.” And finally,... (full context)
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
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...to them for finding “his Wonders” and talking about his life, and finally doing his Lincoln impersonation. This will make them “smile” from knowing “exactly where he is.” Brazil asks where,... (full context)
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...“gived intuh” for Pa, and Brazil finds “uh bag of pennies,” and then the yellow Lincoln beard. (full context)
Act 2, Part G: The Great Beyond
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)