I just transferred to SUNY Geneseo at the beginning of the semester from a community college in my hometown. I found my classes at Corning Community College to be at the same difficulty level as the ones I took in high school. In particular, my English classes were introduction levels and the books that were on the syllabus I had already read in high school. Therefore, I didn’t have to push myself to learn new things because I had previously learned them. As a result, I was a little nervous to transfer to Geneseo because I had heard the reputation of their academics and I knew it was going to be challenging. During orientation I was so excited to be put into English 203 because at home I loved to go to our local theater with my Grandma and watch Broadway shows. Back in high school we always had to read old literature, such as Shakespeare, which wouldn’t be my first choice when choosing a play to read. So when I read that this class would consist of reading contemporary plays that I had already heard of, I couldn’t wait to get started. As promised, we read so many great contemporary plays during my time in this course. Reading the plays was my favorite part because it let me use my imagination to create a picture of what was happening in my head. I love watching plays, but it’s like when reading a novel is better than the movie itself. However, I did enjoy watching some of the plays after reading them to confirm that what I had imagined was correct. In high school and at my community college I was never forced to analyze a text too deeply because of the time limit set for each book. For the first time in this course I was challenged to examine the texts and relate them to modern issues in America, such as race, immigration, and gender identity. This was also one of my favorite parts of the course because we could relate it to what is happening in the world around us now. I’d say the least interesting part of the course for myself would be writing the reviews. Never before in any course I have taken did I have to use my opinion to analyze a text. Since this was my first time writing reviews it wasn’t one of my strengths and I think that is why I didn’t enjoy it as much. I have been used to thriving without really challenging myself, but I appreciate the fact that this course got me out of my comfort zone and taught me a new skill. I didn’t get the grade I expected on my first review, but as I kept writing and learning new things about how to write I got better and that makes me excited to continue in the English concentration and improve my writing skills.
In the documentary, The Topdog Diaries, Suzan-Lori Parks states that while writing Topdog/Underdog she did not strategize to form a theme based on race. Many people have asked her “What’s [the play] about?” and “What are the issues you’re trying to defend?” She opposes with “Black people when they hang out is it an exploration of race, just two black people in a room together?” Though I concede that Parks did not intend to write a play on racial issues, I still insist that Topdog/Underdog portrays exemplary examples of discrimination in America today. To kickoff this theme, the characters, Lincoln and Booth, are named after two historical white men and are played by two black actors. This is an ironic start to the play and automatically delves into the social history of the United States and slavery. Booth, the underdog, does not have a job, is striving to be the best hustler in three card monte, and boosts every item that he owns. These actions contribute to the African American stereotypes in large cities today. On the other hand, Lincoln actually has a job that supports both him and his brother. However, the only way Link could get this job was to put on white face and it consisted of dressing as Abraham Lincoln and getting “assassinated” daily by paying customers.
The black man playing the Great Emancipator just adds to the racial satire in the play. I believe the title, Topdog/Underdog, is also tied to the act of reversing black and white characters and all of the undertones on race. It could be interpreted as the white population being the topdogs and African Americans being the underdogs. Unfortunately, we live in a dog-eat-dog world and our nation’s history has contributed largely to discrimination among African Americans. Although Parks did not intentionally write this play based on the explorations of race, I argue that these issues are what embody the play most.