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Fences & Topdog/Underdog
The course of dramatic literature reveals truths of the human condition. Drama is a study of human nature, its tendencies and reactions, its inner-most thoughts. Every play chooses as its theme various facets of humanity to study in various contexts, and some explore multiple ideas, indeed, the more, the richer the play. Take, for example, Fences by August Wilson, and Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks, each of which deals with the central theme of how people's hopes and dreams affect the way they live and the people they become. The theme of hopes and dreams that runs through these two plays dictates the life-progress of brothers Lincoln and Booth in Topdog/Underdog, and also of Troy and his son Cory in Fences.
In Topdog/Underdog, Suzan-Lori Parks seems to criticize the human need to have dreams by showing the negative effect these dreams have on the characters who hold them. The eldest brother, Lincoln, was at one time living out his dream of running 3-card monte hustles on the streets daily, making large sums of money. He was "the best anyone ever seen. Coast to coast," (Parks 55). He was so good that he never lost. Just when he was feeling the end of his career coming, when he felt like he was going to step down with honor, it was stopped short abruptly when his colleague, Lonny, was shot. The American Dream that "Link the Stink" held onto (Parks 55) may have been profitable, but eventually it led to the demise of his friend. Even after the homicide, the dream of success in 3-card monte held fast in Lincoln's mind, despite his attempts to bury it and not to "touch thuh cards" (Parks 17). This dream held so fast, even, that years later he was tempted to pick up the cards again and try his skills. The cards trapped him, and he was successful, but the greed that stemmed from the success of that dream killed him in the end.
That dream of hustling the card game did not stop with Lincoln. It also transferred to his younger brother, Booth, who emulated Lincoln after seeing his success with the game. It came into Booth's mind that if he practiced enough and wanted it enough, he too could become as lightning-fast as legendary Link the Stink, hustling hundreds of dollars out of unsuspecting passers-by every day. This became almost a sickness with Booth. He lived and breathed the hope of hustling 3-card monte like his brother, and he ceaselessly implored his brother to show him everything from the liquid movement of the cards to the size-up of the crowd (Parks 74). He wanted to know just how Lincoln could be so good. The idea of the money that would come in as a result of Booth's new financial endeavor made his mouth water, and he would let nothing stand in his way of being the best. Not even his brother. At the end of the play, Lincoln throws one final game for Booth, who loses his entire inheritance to Lincoln because of the pride that was carrying him on. In a rage after losing his money, he shoots and kills Lincoln, an act that is done more out of pride and a sense of loss than anything else. Eventually, the similar big dream held by the brothers deteriorates them both, and in the end, they do not gain, but rather lose.
August Wilson presents a similar family dynamic in Fences between Troy and his son Cory, as they duke it out trying to make the best of the dreams they have. The main character, Troy, had the dream when he was young to become a major-league baseball player and make a lot of money doing it. Unfortunately when he came through it was "too early" (Wilson 9) for people to recognize his talent enough to overlook his race and sign him up to a major-league team. Much later down the road Troy scoffs at the African-Americans who are finally making the major-league teams, players like Jackie Robinson who he claims "wasn't nobody" (Wilson 10). He scoffs even more at the white players (like Selkirk) who beat him out of the job simply by the color of their skin, when his batting average was nearly double theirs (Wilson 9). Troy's ability and the dream flowing from that ability roused in him a sense of unbeatable pride and eventually bitterness when he was left "without a pot to piss…[continue]
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