The America Play

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

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Mary Todd Lincoln Character Analysis

Abraham Lincoln’s wife and the famously controversial and maligned First Lady of the United States from 1861-1865. Born into a slaveholding Kentucky family, she excelled in school and took an early interest in politics, then moved to Illinois, where she married Lincoln in 1842. She had several children but was not particularly fond of motherhood, which in part led her to take an active role in her husband’s political career, unlike most political wives of her time. When she became the First Lady, she earned a reputation for overspending, having too many male friends, and berating Lincoln’s political opponents. When Lincoln was assassinated, she purportedly began screaming and was removed from the theater, then kept away from her husband until the next morning, when she visited him and fainted shortly before he finally died. A few decades later, her own son publicly denounced her as a lunatic and got her committed to a psychiatric hospital for several years. She serves as something of a foil for Lucy throughout the play, and the Foundling Father repeatedly focuses on the possibility that she said something like “Emergency, oh, Emergency, please put the Great Man in the ground,” after Lincoln’s assassination. He also mentions that she accompanied Abraham Lincoln to the theater and laughed alongside him to Our American Cousin, but tellingly, Lucy notes that her favorite part of the Lincoln story is the one where Mary Todd “begins to lose her mind.”

Mary Todd Lincoln Quotes in The America Play

The The America Play quotes below are all either spoken by Mary Todd Lincoln or refer to Mary Todd 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

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:
Get the entire The America Play LitChart as a printable PDF.
The America Play PDF

Mary Todd Lincoln Character Timeline in The America Play

The timeline below shows where the character Mary Todd Lincoln appears in The America Play. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1: Lincoln Act
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...to 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... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
“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... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...Wilkes Booth “broke his leg” jumping from Lincoln’s seat onto the stage, and how Mary Todd “hysteric[ally]” screamed for him and grieved when her husband died before talking to their son... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...and 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... (full context)
Act 2, Part D: Echo
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
...“the watching of the play” to “the pulling of the trigger” and “the screaming of Todd” to “the shouting of Booth ‘Thus to the tyrants!’” and, finally, “the silence of the... (full context)
Act 2, Part E: Spadework
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...“changed your Fathuhs life.” But she preferred the story of Lincoln getting “married to Mary Todd and she begins to lose her mind.” (full context)