The America Play

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

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The Foundling Father Character Analysis

The central character in The America Play, whose monologue occupies Act One and in whose footsteps Lucy and Brazil (his wife and their son) follow during Act Two. Born in a “Small Town” into a family of black gravediggers, the Foundling Father has a close physical resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. After digging graves for a living during many years, he visited a theme park called the Great Hole of History on his honeymoon with Lucy, and the historical reenactors who perform “Reconstructed Historicities” there inspire him to start a “Lincoln Act” of his own. He convinced his barber to help him put together some beards and then abandoned his family and moved West to pursue his dreams. Now, he charges people a penny to dress up as John Wilkes Booth and reenact the Lincoln assassination. He performs this reenactment throughout Act One and inexplicably returns to the stage various times during Act Two, seemingly from beyond the dead, to speak his case and perform his act. The Foundling Father’s obsession with Lincoln is a means of both honoring the “Great Man,” a revolutionary figure who arguably incorporated white and black Americans into the idea of a unified nation, and expressing his own sense of alienation and loss as a black man in the United States. His name is at once a play on the “Founding Fathers” of American democracy and a reference to his sense of abandonment, and perhaps the way that African Americans are largely erased in or abandoned by narratives of American history. (A “foundling” is a child abandoned by its parents.) At the end of the play, he appears to die for good, as he reenacts Lincoln for his son Brazil.

The Foundling Father Quotes in The America Play

The The America Play quotes below are all either spoken by The Foundling Father or refer to The Foundling Father. 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

A great hole. In the middle of nowhere. The hole is an exact replica of The Great Hole of History.

Related Characters: The Foundling Father
Related Symbols: The Great Hole of History
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

“He digged the hole and the whole held him.”

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Great Hole of History
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

On the way home again the histories paraded again on past him although it wasnt on past him at all it wasnt something he could expect but again like Lincolns life not “on past” but past. Behind him. Like an echo in his head.

Related Characters: The Foundling Father (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Great Hole of History, Echoes
Page Number: 163
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: The Hall of Wonders Quotes

A gunshot echoes. Loudly. And echoes.

Related Characters: Lucy, Brazil, The Foundling Father
Related Symbols: Echoes, The Great Hole of History
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Part A: Big Bang Quotes

BRAZIL: [We’re from out East. We’re not from these parts.
(Rest)
Mv foe-father, her husband, my Daddy, her mate, her man, my Pa come out here. Out West.
(Rest)
Come out here all uhlone. Cleared thuh path tamed thuh wilderness dug this whole Hole with his own 2 hands and et cetera.
(Rest)
Left his family behind. Back Last. His Lucy and his child. He waved “Goodbye.” Left us tuh carry on. I was only 5.
(Rest)]
My Daddy was uh Digger. Shes whatcha call uh Confidence. I did thuh weepin and thuh moanin.
(Rest)
His lonely death and lack of proper burial is our embarrassment.

Related Characters: Brazil (speaker), The Foundling Father, Lucy
Related Symbols: The Great Hole of History
Page Number: 178-179
Explanation and Analysis:

LUCY: That iduhnt how it went.
BRAZIL: Oh.
LUCY: Thuh Mr. Washington me and your Daddy seen was uh lookuhlike of thuh Mr. Washington of history-fame, son.
BRAZIL: Oh.
LUCY: Thuh original Mr. Washingtonssbeen long dead.
BRAZIL : O.
LUCY: That Hole back East was uh theme park son. Keep your story to scale.
BRAZIL: K.
(Rest)
Him and Her would sit by thuh lip uhlong with thuh others all in uh row cameras clickin and theyud look down into that Hole and see—ooooo—you name it. Ever-y-day you could look down that Hole and see—ooooo you name it. Amerigo Vespucci hisself made regular appearances. Marcus Garvey. Ferdinand and Isabella. Mary Queen of thuh Scots! Tarzan King of thuh Apes! Washington Jefferson Harding and Millard Fillmore. Mistufer Columbus even. Oh they saw all thuh greats. Parading daily in thuh Great Hole of History.

Related Characters: Brazil (speaker), Lucy (speaker), The Foundling Father
Related Symbols: The Great Hole of History
Page Number: 179-180
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Part C: Archaeology Quotes

BRAZIL: You hear im?
LUCY: Echo of thuh first sort: thuh sound. (E.g. thuh gunplay.)
(Rest)
Echo of thuh 2nd sort: thuh words. Type A: thuh words from thuh dead. Category: Unrelated.
(Rest)
Echo of thuh 2nd sort, Type B: words less fortunate: thuh Disembodied Voice. Also known as “Thuh Whispers.” Category: Related. Like our Fathuhs.
(Rest)
Echo of thuh 3rd sort: thuh body itself.
(Rest)
BRAZIL: You hear im.
LUCY: Cant say. Cant say, son.
BRAZIL: My faux-father.

Related Characters: Lucy (speaker), Brazil (speaker), The Foundling Father
Related Symbols: Echoes, Whispers
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Part E: Spadework Quotes

BRAZIL: We could say I just may follow in thuh footsteps of my foe-father.
LUCY: We could say that.
BRAZIL: Look on thuh bright side!
LUCY: Look on thuh bright side!
BRAZIL: So much tuh live for!
LUCY: So much tuh live for! Sweet land of—! Sweet land of—?
BRAZIL: Of liberty!

Related Characters: Lucy (speaker), Brazil (speaker), The Foundling Father
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

1 couldnt never deny him nothin.
I gived intuh him on everything.
Thuh moon. Thuh stars.

Related Characters: Lucy (speaker), The Foundling Father, Brazil
Page Number: 192
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

The Foundling Father Character Timeline in The America Play

The timeline below shows where the character The Foundling Father 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
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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 each pair. Three... (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... (full context)
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The Foundling Father notes that “It would be helpful to our story if” the Lesser Known got to... (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... (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... (full context)
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On the train home from his honeymoon, the Foundling Father explains, he could not stop thinking about “the Reconstructed Historicities he ha[d] witnessed,” which 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... (full context)
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Suddenly, “A Man, [dressed] as John Wilkes Booth, enters” and “point[s] the gun at the Foundling Father ’s head.” The Foundling Father starts laughing boisterously, until the man shoots and he “slumps... (full context)
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The reenactment repeats: the 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... (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... (full context)
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The Foundling Father continues talking about details of the murder (the distance Lincoln and the stage, the people... (full context)
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After this woman exits, the Foundling Father decides that it is time to “wear the yellow beard,” for “variety.” He notes that... (full context)
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The Foundling Father tells the audience that he has “no side effects” from his job, besides “a slight... (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... (full context)
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A man dressed as Booth comes inside and shoots the chuckling Foundling Father , then yells “Thus to the tyrants!” After a long, unwritten “spell”—the dialogue just says... (full context)
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The Foundling Father comments on his “ringing in the ears” and “slight deafness,” offers his wink and nod,... (full context)
Act 2, Part A: Big Bang
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...She tells him to continue “till you dig up somethin” and reminds him that “Your Daddy was uh Digger.” The echo continues, and after a pause, Lucy tells Brazil how important... (full context)
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Brazil notes that he and Lucy “arent from these parts,” and “Daddy iduhnt either.” He’s stopped digging, and Lucy tells him to start again, “till you dig... (full context)
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Brazil comments that “Ff Pa was here weud find his bones,” along with “thuh Wonders” and “his Whispers,” but Lucy... (full context)
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Since he doesn’t hear his Pa’s “whispers,” Brazil concludes that “he wuduhnt here,” but Lucy says that he must have been,... (full context)
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Brazil recalls that his family is “from out East,” but his Pa (for whom he has many names) came “out hear all uhlone” to dig his “whole... (full context)
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...and “drops dead,” but Lucy knows he’s “fakin” just like his Father always did. His Pa was “one of thuh best” at faking—and at digging. Brazil “was only 5,” but his... (full context)
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So that’s why Pa came West, “digged this lookuhlike,” and then “died right here.” “Uh greaaaaat biiiiig faker,” Lucy... (full context)
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...tells the story of “the 100th anniversary of the founding of our country,” when “ the Father took the Son out into the yard” and started biting and crying into the dirt.... (full context)
Act 2, Part B: Echo
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The Foundling Father declares to the audience: “Ladies and Gentlemen: Our American Cousin, Act III, scene 5.” The... (full context)
Act 2, Part C: Archaeology
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...your Fathuhs.” And there are echoes of “thuh body itself.” Brazil says Lucy must hear Pa, but she says she “Cant say.” (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...“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... (full context)
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Lucy tells Brazil that she “couldnt never deny [Pa] nothin” and gave him “Thuh moon. Thuh stars. / Thuh bees knees. Thuh cats pyjamas.”... (full context)
Act 2, Part D: Echo
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The Foundling Father announces “Our American Cousin, Act III, scene 2.” In this brief act, the American Mr.... (full context)
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Next, the Foundling Father gives a monologue. He thanks the people of “Snyder,” a “loverly” town, for having him.... (full context)
Act 2, Part E: Spadework
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...state capitals, until they get to “Nebraska. Lincoln.” Lucy pauses and then starts explaining how Pa “couldnt get that story out of his head”—the story is “Mr. Lincolns great head” and... (full context)
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Brazil weeps, but Lucy gives him “daddys digging spade” to cheer him up and tells him he “look[s] more and more and... (full context)
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Lucy and Brazil ask what Pa would say, if Lucy could “hear his words.” She decides that he would tell Brazil... (full context)
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Lucy tells Brazil that his Pa might as well be “striding on in” to see them, “nod[ding]” to them for finding... (full context)
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Lucy remarks that she “couldnt never deny him [Pa] nothin” and “gived intuh him on everything,” just as Brazil finds a trumpet. Lucy tells... (full context)
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...then Brazil digs up something else: “uh Tee-Vee.” Lucy keeps reminding herself of the things Pa took from her, like “thuh apron from uhround my waist” and even her “re-memberies—you know—thuh... (full context)
Act 2, Part G: The Great Beyond
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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The Foundling Father declares that, on this “momentous occasion,” he wants “to say a few words from the... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...“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... (full context)