The America Play

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

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The Great Hole of History Symbol Icon

The America Play is mysteriously set in “an exact replica of The Great Hole of History.” The audience quickly learns that the Foundling Father decided to dig this “exact replica” to perform his Lincoln assassination act after visiting the original Great Hole, a history-themed amusement park full of “lookuhlike[s]” who paraded around dressed as historical figures. So the Foundling Father’s replica of The Great Hole is, in fact, a reenactor’s reenactment of a reenactment of the past—and yet, to him, it rings as true and authentic as books and archives do for other kinds of historians. He mistakes reenactment for truth by taking inspiration from the original Great Hole, but also shows how the whole truth of what happened in the past is never fully recoverable, and so always subject to interpretation and distortion through the voices of those who narrate it.

The Great Hole itself also comments on a particular way of narrating history. It randomly juxtaposes figures from various places and time periods—even fiction—like “Marcus Garvey. Ferdinand and Isabella. Mary Queen of thuh Scots! Tarzan King of thuh Apes!” This contextless concept of history, a domain where “thuh greats” do great things alone, is antithetical to Parks’s attempts to recover the echoes and “Whispers” of erased voices from the past.

Moreover, The Great Hole also comments on the erasure of black experiences and voices from American history: for African Americans, history is a “hole” that does not reflect their or their ancestors’ experiences. But for Parks, this erasure also means an opportunity to introduce new narratives that help define (or redefine) African American identity and history. In short, The Great Hole suggests that history itself is always reinvented and re-narrated in the present, but also provides a clear example of how not to narrate it.

The Great Hole of History Quotes in The America Play

The The America Play quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Great Hole of History. 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:

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:
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

Uh Hehm. Uh Hehm. WELCOME WELCOME WELCOME TUH THUH HALL OF —

Related Characters: Brazil (speaker), Lucy
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Part G: The Great Beyond Quotes

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:
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The America Play PDF

The Great Hole of History Symbol Timeline in The America Play

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Great Hole of History 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
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
...begins “In the middle of nowhere,” in a hole that is “an exact replica of The Great Hole of History .” (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...married to Lucy, and they were planning to “build a mourning business.” They found “ A Big Hole . A theme park. With historical parades.” Impressed by the beautiful park’s size and “Historicity,”... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
...audience.) All alone, he continues, “the Lesser Known […] went out West” seeking “his own Big Hole ,” and “the Westerners” always told him he looked like Lincoln. (He even put “a... (full context)
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...He remarks that “the Lesser Known […] dug over 7 hundred and 23 graves,” plus the Big Hole and “hundreds of shallow holes” for “faux-historical knickknacks.” A pair of newlyweds enters and holds... (full context)
Act 2, Part A: Big Bang
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...callin,” and he could “combine thuh 2” in the West with his “exact replica of thuh Great Hole of History !” “Thuh original,” he clarifies, “ssback East,” and was Pa and Lucy’s honeymoon spot, where... (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
...to keep digging and recalls how Pa used to yell “OHWAYOHWHYOHWAYOH!” from the side of the Great Hole . Brazil echoes this exclamation, and Lucy repeats it again and explains that this was... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...‘the Moan,’” and how to stand properly while mourning. The Father learned this all “at the History Hole ,” and “the Son studied night and day,” until he was the best mourner around... (full context)
Act 2, Part G: The Great Beyond
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...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,”... (full context)
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Family, Trauma, and Personal Identity Theme Icon
Death, Mourning, and Resurrection Theme Icon
...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... (full context)