Suzan-Lori Parks

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

The Abraham Lincoln Costume Symbol Analysis

The Abraham Lincoln Costume Symbol Icon

The Abraham Lincoln costume that Lincoln wears for his job at the arcade comes to stand for the ways in which Lincoln is forced to live with the difficulties of being a black man trying to make an honest living in a world dominated by white people. His position as an impersonator requires him to dress in a frock coat, a top hat, and a fake beard. It also requires him to paint his face white, an inversion of minstrel theater’s use of blackface, when white actors would paint their faces black and portray African-Americans in an absurd and racist manner. Because Lincoln dresses in whiteface, then, his Abraham Lincoln costume is fraught with racial significance—it is the reversal of a racist tradition, and yet Lincoln still struggles against bigotry, as evidenced by the fact that he gets paid less than the person who held his job before him (simply because he’s black). On the one hand, Lincoln benefits from dressing up as Abraham Lincoln because it enables him to work a steady job instead of hustling on the streets. On the other hand, though, maintaining this position forces him to acquiesce to being treated poorly because he’s black. Furthermore, Booth frequently shows his dislike of the Abraham Lincoln costume. Indeed, he often references Lincoln’s “whiteface” while insulting his brother, even calling Lincoln an “uncle tom” (somebody who is overly subservient) at one point. This vehement rejection of the Abraham Lincoln costume arises from Booth’s unwillingness to acknowledge and thereby contend with the complexities of a black man transcending racial boundaries, as well as the costume’s evocation of a time in American history when black people didn’t have rights, an era Booth would rather forget.

The Abraham Lincoln Costume Quotes in Topdog/Underdog

The Topdog/Underdog quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Abraham Lincoln Costume. 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:
Deception Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Theatre Communications Group edition of Topdog/Underdog published in 2001.
Scene Two Quotes

They say the clothes make the man. All day long I wear that getup. But that dont make me who I am. Old black coat not even real old just fake old. Its got worn spots on the elbows, little raggedy places thatll break through into holes before the winters out. Shiny strips around the cuffs and the collar. Dust from the cap guns on the left shoulder where they shoot him, where they shoot me I should say but I never feel like they shooting me. The fella who had the gig before I had it wore the same coat. When I got the job they had the getup hanging there waiting for me. Said thuh fella before me just took it off one day and never came back.


Remember how Dads clothes used to hang in the closet?

Until you took em outside and burned em.

Related Characters: Lincoln (speaker), Booth (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Abraham Lincoln Costume
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Topdog/Underdog LitChart as a printable PDF.
Topdog/Underdog PDF

The Abraham Lincoln Costume Symbol Timeline in Topdog/Underdog

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Abraham Lincoln Costume appears in Topdog/Underdog. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene One
Masculinity, Sexuality, and Violence Theme Icon
History Theme Icon
Brotherhood and Competition Theme Icon
...was rushing to catch a bus, so he didn’t have time to take off his costume before leaving the arcade, where he works as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator who sits with... (full context)
Masculinity, Sexuality, and Violence Theme Icon
...bullshit” in his apartment. He instructs his older brother to take off the Abraham Lincoln costume, claiming he’s going to scare away women. When Lincoln asks, “What women?”, Booth says, “I... (full context)
Deception Theme Icon
...obeys, and as he undresses, he says that while riding the bus home in the costume he caught the attention of a little boy sitting next to him. Excited to see... (full context)
Scene Two
Deception Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Scene Four
Deception Theme Icon
History Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Scene Six
Masculinity, Sexuality, and Violence Theme Icon
History Theme Icon
Brotherhood and Competition Theme Icon
As Lincoln packs his Abraham Lincoln costume, Booth admits he’s going to miss seeing his brother come home in the “getup.” “I... (full context)