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Reports & Essays: Literature - Plays

"AND""OR"

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 constructive way. 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. Bibliography 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 York. 1964.

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