Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks is a play about two brothers who were abandoned by their parents at a very young age and grew up to be best friends. Both men are struggling to find their place in the world. They live in a one-room boarding house that doesn't have a bathroom or running water. Through their interchanges it is evident that the pain of abandonment has sunk in deep into their roots. Both men often refer back to the parental love that they were denied when they were young. With a learned helplesness from early childhood both men have no trust for others, even each other.
Booth is a petty theif with high hopes of being a success by learning his brothers trade of being a three-card-monte street hustler. Lincoln a former three-card-monte street hustler who swore of the game after one of his hustling crew members was murdered. Now works at an arcade where he dresses up as Abe Lincoln and customers pretend to assasinate him with a capgun.
Lincoln and Booth are named by their father as a joke, and their fate has been preordained by their names. In our nations history, John Wilkes Booth kills Abe Lincoln. Do they have to be victims of their namesake? There was a hope in the play that they would re-write their narrative fate; they have a choice, a chance to better their own fate. The characters have little self-awareness and an inability to respond to their needs. They resort to crime as a means to live. If this were not the case they would be able to take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and actions. Perhaps then, Booth wouldn't have to kill Lincoln in the end. Parks in the character list states that Lincoln is the topdog and Booth is the underdog. In life, Lincoln is the topdog he pays the rent, being the only one who has an actual job and seems to be more well rounded than Booth. Topdog in personality means to be bossy, and underdog is to be passive or inept, in this way Booth is the topdog and Lincoln is the underdog. Despite their kinship the brothers struggling for power, they want to determine, "who the man" a statement repeated throughout the play. Lincoln allows Booth to be the topdog when they play three-card-monte, until their is money involved and comes out on top.
Although the brothers have a strong bond of friendship they constantly betray each other. Lincoln is divorced from his wife, Cookie and sleeping on Booth's recliner. Booth betrays Lincoln and describes in detail at the end of the play on how he seduced Lincolns wife, "the bad part of me took her clothing off and carried her into thuh bed and had her." Lincoln betrays Booth, he promises Booth that he is going to teach him the secrets of three-card-monte, but never does, he keeps his secrets to himself and in the end uses his trick to swindle Booth. This ultimatly leads to Booth killing Lincoln, the murder being very similar to the daily assasinations in Lincolns job. Both brothers have been abandoned by their parents and learned betrayal at a very young age. Lincoln says in scene five, "I think there was something out there they liked more than they liked us and for years they was struggling against moving towards that