Topdog/Underdog

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

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Topdog/Underdog: Scene Four Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Saturday, Lincoln wakes up before Booth and takes off his costume. In doing so, he rips the fake beard, then starts talking to himself about how his boss is going to criticize him and take money out of his next paycheck for damaging the costume. He fantasizes about quitting in that moment, throwing the beard down and strangling his boss. He soon calms down, though, reminding himself that this is a good “sit down job” with benefits. Nonetheless, he’s thrown into a reverie about his bygone days as a hustler, reminiscing about how good at throwing cards he used to be. He narrates to himself the story of his rise to power as a card dealer, about how he “woke up one day” and suddenly “didnt have the taste for it no more.”
 Lincoln allows his personal history to crop up in this scene by finally examining his past as a Three-Card Monte dealer. Unlike his brother, he seems to have matured, leaving behind any desire to con unsuspecting people. At the same time, though, he finds himself struggling against the difficulties of a more legitimate job, where he’s a lowly worker instead of a virtuosic and revered hustler. Indeed, his boss seems eager to ignore his value, as evidenced both by his desire to replace Lincoln with a wax dummy and his eagerness to dock Lincoln’s pay for trivial reasons. Nonetheless, Lincoln clearly believes this job is respectable, indicating his belief that it’s better to suffer the tribulations of everyday life than to lead a life of deception.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
History Theme Icon
Talking to himself, Lincoln comments on his own decision to stop hustling and his realization that he wanted to stop throwing cards. “Like something in you knew it was time to quit,” he says. Ignoring this feeling, though, he went out to play one last time, and this was the day his good friend Lonny died. This is why he left Three-Card Monte behind for good, he tells himself, getting a stable job at the arcade. “And when the arcade lets you go yll get another good job. I dont gotta spend my whole life hustling. Theres more to Link than that. More to me than some cheap hustle.” 
Once again, Lincoln frames a life of deception as “cheap” and unworthy of respect. It’s clear he wants to be able to feel good about what he’s doing with his life, as evidenced by his statement that there’s more to him than his skills as a hustler. Even if he loses his position at the arcade, he plans to “get another good job.” In turn, the audience comes to understand that Lincoln embodies the kind of determination and moral compass that Booth lacks.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
History Theme Icon
Just for fun, Lincoln sits down and practices his Three-Card Monte moves. His banter has much more fluidity to it than Booth’s, and his hands are fast across the cardboard table. As he mumbles his routine, Booth wakes up and listens. After finishing an imaginary round, Lincoln puts down the cards, stands up, and walks away from the table, eventually sitting on the edge of his reclining chair. No matter where he moves throughout the apartment, though, he can’t stop looking at the cards.
It’s strange that, after saying so many times that he doesn’t “touch thuh cards,” Lincoln breaks down at this moment and practices his moves. What’s especially odd is that he does so after having stated that there’s more to him “than some cheap hustle.” It’s as if he’s delivered this monologue because he needs to convince himself not to return to a life of hustling. In this way, Parks shows how appealing the conman’s life can be, suggesting that the act of deception can be addictive, enticing even intelligent people like Lincoln who fully understand the “cheap[ness]” of the trade.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
History Theme Icon