Brecht Jones and Artaud
In LeRoi Jones's play, "Dutchman," elements of realism,
naturalism and non-realism abound. The play features
characters such as Clay, a twenty-year-old Negro, Lula, a
thirty-year-old white woman, both white and black
passengers on a subway coach, a young Negro and a
conductor. All of these characters take a ride that, for
each, ends with different destinations and leaves the
audience to sort through the details and find conclusions
themselves. In this play, Jones uses realistic,
naturalistic and non-realistic elements to convey social
issues such as racism in the author's own disillusioned
style. Jones's portrayal is supported with the influences
of Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud, whose own
disillusionment enhanced their works and greatly
diversified theatrical conventions. "Dutchman" is a play
that should be talked about by its audience so they can
take part cleanse themselves of the issues within,
therefore, as many conclusions can be drawn by the
individu! als exposed in this play as there are numbers of
people that have seen or read it.
Realism and naturalism arose out of a world which was
increasingly becoming scientifically advanced. Airplanes,
railroads, automobiles, steamboats and communication
advances such as television, radio, the telephone and the
telegraph increased the speed and the amount of information
that human beings can send. Realism and naturalism " . . .
arose in part as responses to those new social and
philosophical conditions (Cameron and Gillespie, pg. 335)."
Following in a realistic style, Jones sets his play in
contemporary times and in a contemporary place- the subway.
Jones sets the scene with a man sitting in a subway seat
while holding a magazine. Dim and flickering lights and
darkness whistle by against the glass window to his right.
These aesthetic adornments give the illusion of speed
associated with subway travel. Realists believed that the
most effective purpose of art was to improve humanity by
portraying contemporary life and its problems in realistic
settings. Jones depicts racism and murder in a modern
setting to remind us that racism and racially motivated
murders are not issues only relegated to our nation's past,
nor is the issue of institutionalized racism.
Jones also used non-realistic elements in his play and was
probably influenced by Bertolt Brecht in doing so. Brecht
once wrote that " . . . to think, or write or produce a
play also means to transform society, to transform the
state, to subject ideologies to close scrutiny (Goosens,
1997)." Jones was influenced by Brecht by producing a play
in a revolutionary poetic style which scrutinizes
ideologies of race. Jones also modeled Brecht's style of
character development, creating ^verfremdung'
(estrangement). Brecht reasoned that " . . . man is such
and such because circumstances are such (Goosens, 1997)."
This effect explains the murder of Clay resulting from a
society that has perpetuated institutionalized racism and
segregation as historically acceptable. Brecht's aspiration
was to provoke an audience into reforming society and to
leave an audience with the need to take action against a
social problem in order to complete an emotional cleansing
coined, ^Theatre of Alie! nation." Jones undoubtedly has
the same goal in mind while creating "The Dutchman."
Antonin Artaud also had an influence on the theatre, and
possibly on Jones. "Artaud advocated a total spectacle with
lights, violent gestures and noise in place of music
(Barber, 1990)." Artaud's style for theatre and cinema,
envisioned as Theatre of Cruelty, shattered representations
of spoken language and carefully orchestrated theatrical
action. Artaud directed his fury against a society which
was in a state of constant confrontation by favoring
controlled writing against dream imagery. Jones's use of
dialogue where nothing is what is seems unless spoken by
Clay is an example of Artaud's style of fury. Lula
exemplifies this also through her dialogue with its
slippery candor which eventually causes Clay to respond
candidly with a fury of his own. This fury expresses more
truth about the minds of black America in a nutshell than
countless books on U.S. interracial relations have
portrayed. The play nears its conclusion as Lula violently
kills Clay with wild and raw ob! literation, ending this
carefully orchestrated plot. The use of realistic and
naturalistic elements as well as non-realistic elements
makes LeRoi Jones' play, "Dutchman," a hybrid. The
realistic elements include the setting (a subway coach
racing along through the subterranean world of lights and
busy stations). The characters, Clay and Lula, are real
people with real histories and real agendas facing a real
issue- racism. The non-realistic elements which predominate
in "Dutchman" include Brecht's verfremdung and the element
of Theatre of Alienation, as well as Artaud's racy dialogue
and violent gestures elemental in his Theatres of Cruelty.
Because "Dutchman" is a hybrid, it deserves a new
categorization that represents Jones's style. A term that
can describe this style is "Theatre of Illumination." The
Theatre of Illumination sheds light on each individual's
unconscious reasoning which forces the audience to reveal
its own consciousness. When this happens, the audien! ce
can be ready to challenge their own judgements in a
On the surface, there can always be supported reasoning
found for any prejudice or preconceived notion, but the
Theatre of Illumination transcends the surface
preoccupations of reasoning and dissolves the mists that
shroud everyone's apparent opinions and renders humanity
naked, infantile and in our primordial state of seeking
love and acceptance. In this state, we search for anyone
who will unconditionally love us, and accept them for that.
The Theatre of Illumination awakens our hearts with
yearning, sobbing and human repentance as we realize the
wrongs that are possible, and also realize how useless
those wrongs actually are.
Barber, Stephen. "Antonin Artaud." 1990.
Cameron, Kenneth and Gillespie, Patti. Enjoyment of
Theatre. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, 4th ed. 1996.
Goosens, Shay. "Bertolt Brecht: A Theatrical Genius." 1997.
Jones, LeRoi. Dutchman. William and Morrow, New York, New
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