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
A great hole. In the middle of nowhere. The hole is an exact replica of The Great Hole of History.
“He digged the hole and the whole held him.”
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.
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.
BRAZIL: [We’re from out East. We’re not from these parts.
Mv foe-father, her husband, my Daddy, her mate, her man, my Pa come out here. Out West.
Come out here all uhlone. Cleared thuh path tamed thuh wilderness dug this whole Hole with his own 2 hands and et cetera.
Left his family behind. Back Last. His Lucy and his child. He waved “Goodbye.” Left us tuh carry on. I was only 5.
My Daddy was uh Digger. Shes whatcha call uh Confidence. I did thuh weepin and thuh moanin.
His lonely death and lack of proper burial is our embarrassment.
LUCY: That iduhnt how it went.
LUCY: Thuh Mr. Washington me and your Daddy seen was uh lookuhlike of thuh Mr. Washington of history-fame, son.
LUCY: Thuh original Mr. Washingtonssbeen long dead.
BRAZIL : O.
LUCY: That Hole back East was uh theme park son. Keep your story to scale.
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.
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)