Topdog/Underdog

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Topdog/Underdog can help.

Topdog/Underdog: Scene Two Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s Friday evening and Booth enters the apartment wearing multiple layers of clothing. When he sees that Lincoln isn’t home yet, he starts taking off each layer, revealing to the audience that he’s wearing two beautiful suits, both of which still have price tags affixed to them. After laying one of the suits on Lincoln’s chair and one on his own bed, he steps into the outer hallway and hauls a large folding screen through the door. Setting up the screen as a partition between the chair and bed, he pours two glasses of whiskey and sits at the cardboard table. Just then, Lincoln bursts in and yells, “Taaaaadaaaaaaaa!” Booth jumps up excitedly and the two brothers giddily count out the money Lincoln has brought home as part of his paycheck.
Once again, the audience sees Booth’s obsession with stealing and with grandeur. Rather than getting a job, it’s clear he’s content with stealing unnecessarily fancy items like beautiful new suits. And though he steals one of these suits as a gift for Lincoln, the fact that he also brings home a partition indicates his desire to separate himself somewhat from his brother, yet another suggestion that their relationship is tense despite their closeness.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
Brotherhood and Competition Theme Icon
As the brothers prance around and delight in their money, Booth tells Lincoln to look around (wanting him to notice the suit he stole for him). “You rush in here and dont even look around. Could be a fucking A-bomb in the middle of the floor you wouldnt notice.” Booth points out that Cookie, Lincoln’s ex-wife, could be in his bed and Lincoln wouldn’t even notice—“She was once,” Lincoln remarks, but Booth directs his brother’s attention to the chair, where the new suit is draped. As Lincoln thanks him, Booth says, “Just cause I aint good as you at cards dont mean I cant do nothing.”
Booth’s casual statement that there could be an “A-bomb in the middle of” the apartment provides insight into the way he views himself in relation to Lincoln. In this moment, it’s clear that he sees himself as somewhat of an antagonist in Lincoln’s life, an idea reinforced by the fleeting reference to the fact that Cookie—Lincoln’s ex-wife—was once in Booth’s bed. It seems, then, that Booth has betrayed Lincoln before and that he’s surprised Lincoln isn’t more suspicious of him for having done so.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
Brotherhood and Competition Theme Icon
Booth brags, saying he’s going to look so handsome in his new suit that Grace will ask him to marry her. Lincoln, for his part, takes pleasure in these new clothes because he’s forced to wear an old frock coat everyday at the arcade. “They say the clothes make the man,” he says, then asks Booth if he remembers how their father left his clothes hanging in the closet when he—like their mother—abandoned them. Apparently, Lincoln burned them after he left because he “got tired of looking at em without him in em.” Returning to his thoughts about his Abraham Lincoln costume, he tells Booth that the person who had the job before him simply hung the suit up one day and never came back. When Lincoln got the job, the boss told him he’d have to wear white makeup and accept lesser pay than the previous impersonator.
Although it seems clear that Booth’s relationship with Grace isn’t very stable, he’s apparently comfortable making confident declarations about how much she’s going to desire him when she sees his fancy new suit. His statement that she’ll propose to him suggests that he wants not only to trick his brother into thinking he has a solid relationship with Grace, but also that he wants to deceive himself. In this moment, it becomes clear that flashy appearances and a boisterous attitude help Booth hide from himself the fact that his relationship with Grace is going badly. As such, by exaggerating his appeal, he deceives himself as a way of protecting himself from feeling inferior and insecure.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After admiring their new suits, the brothers budget out Lincoln’s paycheck, setting aside portions for rent, food, alcohol, and utilities. As they do so, Lincoln mentions rumors about cutbacks that are circulating at the arcade. Worried about losing his job, he catalogues everything he likes about the position, but Booth merely says, “Thats a fucked-up job you got.” In response, Lincoln says, “Its a living.” Booth refutes this, asking his brother if he’s really living, and Lincoln confirms that he is. “One day I was throwing the cards,” he says. “Next day Lonny died. Somebody shot him. I knew I was next, so I quit.” He posits that the arcade job is the luckiest thing to have ever happened to him, but Booth points out that he was once “lucky with thuh cards.” “Aint nothing lucky about cards,” Lincoln corrects him. “Cards aint luck. Cards is work. Cards is skill.”
The idea that playing cards is “work” requiring “skill” implies that the act of deception is more complicated than it looks. Indeed, the fact that it involves “skill” means there are a set of techniques and steps a dealer must understand in order to successfully con a person. With his cockiness and overeager attitude, Booth is unlikely to grasp this, instead viewing the process of deception as nothing more than a matter of “luck.” Furthermore, he expresses a certain discomfort toward Lincoln’s job, a sentiment that perhaps stems from his unwillingness to acknowledge painful histories. In the same way that he ignores Lincoln’s earlier suggestion to change his name to Shango (thereby renouncing the fraught racist history that has inevitably shaped his life) he rejects the idea of his brother sitting dressed up in whiteface and pretending to be somebody who lived during slavery. Although Abraham Lincoln championed abolishing slavery, Booth doesn’t want to remember the past at all, instead dismissing the matter entirely by calling Lincoln’s job “fucked-up.” 
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
History Theme Icon
Get the entire Topdog/Underdog LitChart as a printable PDF.
Topdog/Underdog PDF
After disparaging his brother’s job, Booth finally suggests that Lincoln “jazz up” his Abraham Lincoln act if he doesn’t want to get fired. “Elaborate yr moves,” he says. He counsels his older brother to “flail” his arms and leap up when he gets shot. Lincoln likes the sound of this idea, but when he asks Booth to help him practice this new routine, Booth declines because he has to leave for a date with Grace. “Howabout I run through it with you when I get back,” he says. “Put on yr getup and practice till then.” Before he leaves, Lincoln lets him borrow five dollars. Then, once Lincoln is alone in the apartment, he dresses up as Abraham Lincoln but doesn’t put on the white face paint. He practices dying once, then pours himself a glass of whiskey and sits in his chair.
It’s not surprising that Booth refuses to practice Lincoln’s routine, since he so adamantly dislikes his brother’s job because of its acknowledgement of a turbulent racial history—a history that undoubtedly brings itself to bear on his own life. At the same time, though, he does encourage his brother to dress up as Abraham Lincoln and practice his routine, thereby helping Lincoln increase his chances of keeping his job. That Booth tries to help Lincoln save his job even though he’s uncomfortable with the job itself once again shows the complexity of their brotherly relationship—despite the fact that Booth wants no part of Lincoln’s historically-conscious occupation, he cares for his brother enough to try to help him retain his position. However, this empathy only goes so far, and he can’t bring himself to see it through, which is why he leaves before Lincoln can put on the costume.
Themes
History Theme Icon
Brotherhood and Competition Theme Icon