The Emperor Jones
In Eugene O'Neil's play, The Emperor Jones, he presents a crucial
lesson to mankind: one should not pretend to be someone who he is not.
Multiple repercussions may occur to someone who denies their
background and race. For example, in The Emperor Jones, the character,
Brutus Jones, dissembles as a free white man (Jones was really black
and was supposed to be in slavery during that time). Because of Jones'
denial, he encounters numerous illusions in the forest of his black
heritage, which haunt him until he is finally killed by his natives,
under the accusation of an insurgence against his people.
O'Neil introduces the theme of denial bluntly. In the opening
scene of the play, it is clear to the audience, from a nineteenth
century perspective, that Brutus Jones' physical features oppose his
personal opinion of his individual status. Jones, a colored man, was
expected to be a slave during the eighteen hundreds. Ironically, Jones
proudly claims to be a white man and is portrayed as a powerful man in
this first scene.
After O'Neil presents his theme of denial, he supplies following
scenes with the consequences of illusions, displaying his true
lineage. One apparition Jones encounters is a gang of Negroes chained,
working on the road supervised by a white man. The anticipation of the
audience is that Jones will assist the white man with managing the
slaves. Instead, Jones is ordered to work; subconsciously, he proceeds
to the slave work with his fellow natives. Jones finally realizes his
actions and shoots the apparition, which immediately disappears.
Jones experiences a similar illusion later of chained blacks,
sitting in rows, wailing, awaiting their slavery. Intuitively, Jones
joins their rhythm and swaying and his cry rises louder than the
others. This illusion leaves on its own and Jones advances through the
forest. These two apparitions demonstrate that inside, Jones really
understands that he is colored, but he cannot admit it.
The next two of Jones' illusions display that the other people
realize that Jones is black which aggravates him even more. First
Jones confronts a slave auction. He spectates until he realizes that
it is he, who is being auctioned. As a result, Jones loses control and
goes wild. Finally, Jones witnesses a religious sacrifice, one similar
to his native religious. It is not until Jones realizes that the witch
doctor is offering him as a sacrifice, to be eaten by the crocodile,
that Jones loses control once again.
O'Neil presents a theme of denial in The Emperor Jones. O'Neil
teaches that denial of one's heritage is a dangerous situation that
may result in apparitions and death. He suggests a cure to self-denial
if it's not too late. O'Neil implies that if the people associated
with such a person familiarize him with his real identity, he might be
saved. Unfortunately, the natives were too fearful of Jones to express
such feelings. It wasn't until Jones saw the illusions of the people
identifying him as a black person that he realized that he was
colored. At this point it was too late for Jones to turn back, which
ensued in his death.
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