Suzan-Lori Parks

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Topdog/Underdog can help.
Themes and Colors
Deception Theme Icon
Masculinity, Sexuality, and Violence Theme Icon
History Theme Icon
Brotherhood and Competition Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Topdog/Underdog, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Acts of deception in Topdog/Underdog follow a relatively standardized progression. Indeed, even the most flagrant cons or scams adhere to the same general guidelines. Three-Card Monte, a classic street game played with cards, exhibits this perfectly, as the hustler’s performance and banter follow a uniform, step-by-step delivery. When Lincoln teaches Booth how to “throw the cards,” he explains this hustler’s process, emphasizing the most important step: tricking people into thinking they have a chance at…

read analysis of Deception

Masculinity, Sexuality, and Violence

Masculinity in Topdog/Underdog is often cast as unstable and potentially dangerous. Although both brothers speak about their sexual conquests in chauvinistic terms, Booth especially clings to inflated ideas of his own sexual prowess, allowing it to define his sense of manhood. Booth even tries to emasculate Lincoln during a particularly heated argument not only by reminding him that his wife left him because he was impotent, but by revealing that Booth had slept with Lincoln’s…

read analysis of Masculinity, Sexuality, and Violence


Lincoln and Booth are in many ways similar to the men after whom their characters are named. With his cocky bravado and trigger-happy sensibility, Booth’s personality recalls John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and Confederate sympathizer who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 in the hopes of defeating the Union, winning the Civil War, and thereby ensuring the continuation of slavery. Likewise, his brother’s levelheadedness and patience resemble Abraham Lincoln’s reputation as a thoughtful man…

read analysis of History
Get the entire Topdog/Underdog LitChart as a printable PDF.
Topdog/Underdog PDF

Brotherhood and Competition

Lincoln and Booth’s relationship is complex in that it’s both loving and competitive. The mere fact that Booth has opened his home to Lincoln—allowing his older brother to stay with him in the wake of Lincoln’s divorce—demonstrates the kindness he’s capable of showing. At the same time, though, Booth betrayed Lincoln by sleeping with Lincoln’s wife, Cookie—an action that ensured the dissolution of their marriage in the first place. Booth isn’t the only…

read analysis of Brotherhood and Competition