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History has revolved around the progress of man. Specifically, the White Man. He has exploited other races on his way to the top, taking all the credit for the work that was a communal effort. Throughout American history, blacks were exploited and demeaned, and their place in history often goes unrecognized, unless the topic at hand is either the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement. The central theme of Suzan Lori-Parks’s The America Play is the idea that blacks helped to create the history of the white man and blacks have had to answer to whites since slavery began so long ago. Meanwhile, no one seems to care about black history. Throughout the play, there are a few points of symbolism that directly, and so obviously, relate to the theme.
“The Great Man” and “The Lesser Known” are meant to give titles to Abraham Lincoln and the Foundling Father in the play, but they serve to symbolize blacks and whites as a whole. The Foundling Father makes a living as an impersonator of Lincoln. Lincoln is an extremely famous man, but the Foundling Father lives a life of anonymity. He is only famous because he creates himself to be the Abraham Lincoln that white Americans remember him being. The Foundling Father even says that “inaccuracies are good for business…people don’t like their Lincoln hatless” (1831). He has to dress up as the stereotypical Lincoln that white people knew him as. That’s the only way he can get any attention and business from white people. He also constantly nods and winks at the Lincoln bust and cutout for approval, as if he has to answer to “The Great Man”, or rather, white men. He needs their approval of his depiction of Lincoln, just as blacks have had to answer to and seek the approval of whites for the entirety of American history. The titles of “The Great Man” and “The Lesser Known” symbolize just that.
Another symbol relating to the history of the relationship between black and white Americans is the father’s departure from the life of his son. Not only have blacks been overshadowed and ordered around, but they have been controlled and brainwashed. He left his family to dig one last hole, a hole that symbolized white history. Then, he died. He had to leave his family to follow this deed that was placed upon him by “The Great Man”. It was as if he had no other choice. He left his family “tuh carry on” (1839).” This was his life path that was decided by the White Man, and he had no control over that. He did not give his family notice, because he, himself, was not given notice. He left while his son was in the middle of dinner, because the White Man controlled his life. It can be argued that his destiny was to dig this last hole and that he did, in fact, have control over his own life, but I would argue that this hole was his final task for white people. After a life of digging holes for “The Great Man”, this was his last. His occupation of grave digging was handed down from his black ancestors and would be handed down to his son. Until their path can be changed, they will always be controlled by “The Great Man”.
Of course, the Great Hole of History is the greatest form of symbolism in the play. It was dug by the Lesser Known for the Great Man, and it is said to contain the stories of history. White history, that is. The Black Man dug the hole that holds the White Man’s history. Blacks get no recognition for the way in which they shaped history. They provided the hole that holds the stories about history. They dug it themselves. A hole in the ground is also symbolic of a commemoration of life. It is the formal way to take care of a body. During the time of Lincoln, most blacks were not given the chance for a memorial service, but it was very common among whites. In the play, the Foundling Father’s “lack of proper burial” (1839) is a symbolism of the lives of blacks. They dig the holes that hold the bodies of white men and women and they dig the holes that hold the history of whites. The Foundling Father moved to the West as a part of his mission to serve whites, but when it came time for him to die and for his history to be a part of the Great Hole of History, no one was there to dig for him.
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