Symbolism in Leroy Jones “The Dutchman” Free Essay

Symbolic motifs in the play by Leroi Jones The Dutchman

 

 

The issues of slavery and racial discrimination were among the most sophisticated and controversial in the history of America. Racial confrontation and its impacts were reflected in various literary works, one of them was the play by Leroi Jones The Dutchman. Jones is considered to be an influential African- American writer of the 20th century. He proved to be really versatile, as revealed his talent in a number of different genres, including novel, poetry, drama, operas and so on. His devoted all his effort towards presenting of the problems of black people to the audience. His aim was to force the corresponding changes in human attitude and perception of the concepts of race and equality in society. He was a social activist and confronted racism, colonialism and national oppression. He wanted African American individuals to have good chances and opportunities for self-realization in the American society, for them to develop self-respect and become equal. His play The Dutchman describes the events in subway train. Among the passengers of the train are the central characters of the play – young black poet and a pretty white woman. Clay is on the way to the friend’s party and he is dressed correspondingly in a buttoned-down collar and suit.  Lula is the woman, who initiates their conversation and becomes irritated by his black identity, covered with the manners of the white bourgeois society. The play is utterly symbolic and profound; the author chooses an unusual biblical symbolism in order to reveal the dark side of the racial confrontation and its tragic outcomes.

The relationship between Clay and Lula is the symbol of the relationship and confrontation between all white and black people of the American society. The title of the play bears the portion of symbolism, as Dutchman is the direct reminding of the black origin of the first slaves, who came to the United States. From the first lines of the play the author lets the audience feel the degree of discrimination between white and black people in the American society with the help of the two major characters. The symbols of light and darkness serve the reminders of the worlds, to which Clay and Lula in reality belong. The racial motifs are underlined with the help of using such important symbols as the apples and knife. At the very beginning of the play Lula offers Clay an apple and she states that “eating apples together is always the first step” (Jones, Leroi. Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays. Harper Perennial; First Edition Thus edition, 1971). It seems that she is making a step towards a handsome young man, however, her intentions are far from this. Jones uses apples the traditional symbol of temptation, associated with false promises, lacking further ground. Black people were promised to be made equal, but these promises remained theoretical and superficial. The conflict of the whole society is transmitted into the conflict in a subway train. Lula and Clay are the representatives of two races, but they are to share the same train and they plunge into darkness without seeing any clear perspective of their destination. Such multisided and complex symbolism is developed by Jones in order to underline the problem of racism in the American society. The author creates a kind of sexual union between Lula and Clay, which theoretically is possible, as they are both young and attractive and free, however, this union is groundless and useless, as well as the chance for black and white people to establish union in their society. Normal relationship between whites and black was desired by most African Americans, but was impossible to the same extent as the union between Clay and Lula.

The play The Dutchman is written from a black perspective and is the reflection of the author’s position and understanding of the racial conflict in America in the sixties. The action of the play starts in a New York subway train. There are no hints at the beginning that something terrible is going to happen, when a young white woman enters the train and initiates conversation with a young black man. She smiles and seems to be friendly till the moment, when she pronounces the first phrases: “I’d turned around and saw you staring through that window down the vicinity of my ass and legs.” (Jones, Leroi. Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays. Harper Perennial; First Edition Thus edition, 1971). Lula is thus pushing Clay from the very beginning to admit his guilt for staring at her and developing any sexual desires. Clay replied “I admit I was looking in your direction. But the rest of that weight is yours”. (Jones, Leroi. Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays. Harper Perennial; First Edition Thus edition, 1971). Clay uses the word “weight” in order to avoid the attempts of Lula to impose that white-puritan ethic of sexuality upon the young man. Thus the sexual paradigm is combined with the theme of racial confrontation from the beginning of the play. The author shows that Clay, as a representative of the African American bourgeoisie, is passive and unable to withstand open manipulation of Lula, who is a bright representation of the white part of the American society. Gohar, Saddik writes in his article The Complicated Inter faces of Symbolism and Myth in Dutchman. Vol. 6(1), pp. 7-12, 2018 that  “Clay’s weakness is due to his deliberate attempt to seek  integration with  white  America’s  mainstream culture which is a cardinal sin in Jones’ doctrine because such an attempt is destructive to black humanity as it leads to acts of self-hate on the part of black people. Lula, on the other hand, is not convinced that Clay really seeks integration but she is sure that he seeks  personal  interests.” . The mocking despise of the white people in America during that period is revealed through the expressions of Lula to Clay, who says: “You look like you’ve been trying to grow a beard. That’s exactly what you look. You look like you live in New Jersey with your parents and are trying to grow a beard… you look like you’ve been reading Chinese poetry and drinking lukewarm sugarless tea” (Jones, Leroi. Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays. Harper Perennial; First Edition Thus edition, 1971). This phrase is a direct hint of Lula upon the fact that Clay is not able to do anything more important and significant, than just imitate white people. These hints upon imitation are also forms of oppression of black identity. Jones, as a an activist, was interested in looking for the ways to motivate people to stand up for their own interests, he wanted to find the ways to convince the African American people of their ability to fight for their rights and their unique identity. This is the reason, why the author refers to the image of a white aggressive and oppressive woman, who mocks about Clay’s passive position even in establishing any kind of sexual relationship between them. This is an extended metaphor, applied by the author in order to underline the passive position of black people, which was not accepted, but rather reinforced by the confrontation from the side of the white Americans. “In this sense Lula appears as an archetypal figure, who represents psycho-sexual and socio- historical attitudes within a racial society.” (Gohar, Saddik. The Complicated Inter faces of Symbolism and Myth in Dutchman. Vol. 6(1), pp. 7-12, 2018).

The reaction of Clay is associated with the general reaction of the author towards the problems of racial inequality and position of black people in the American society. When Clay hears a lot of racial insults from Lula, he gradually becomes angry and bursts out with a long monologue, where he also insults Lula and reveals his hatred towards all white people. The peak of this monologue is when he says: “You don’t have any sense, Lula, nor feelings either. I could murder you now. Such a tiny ugly throat. I could squeeze it flat, and watch you turn blue, on a humble…” (Jones, Leroi. Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays. Harper Perennial; First Edition Thus edition, 1971). Clay’s speech is important for reflection of the author’s own position and views, regarding the social tensions in the mid-sixties on the basis of racial discrimination. Jones, as well as his character Clay, become conscious of the need for the back people to protect themselves, to become active in standing for their rights, otherwise they do not have any chance to prevent black genocide. Clay tells to Lula that “murder, just murder, would make us (blacks) all sane” (Jones, Leroi. Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays. Harper Perennial; First Edition Thus edition, 1971). Also he insists that black people seem to have racial ground and explanation, in case they kill Lula and other white people, however, when his bursting out is over, Clay comes back to his image of a passive middle-class African American and says that he does not want any death and would rather remain a fool. For this peaceful choice Clay had to pay with is own life, as when he tries to collect his things and to leave, Lula stabs him with a knife and tells other white passengers to throw his body out of the train. Lula chooses to kill Clay, although she is aware of his inability to do real harm to her. Jones underlines here that most of white people had their inside inferiority towards black people, even if it was hidden in unconscious level.

Overall, the famous play The Dutchman by Leroi Jones is a significant literary expression of the position of the author regarding the racial confrontation in the American society in the sixties. Being an activist, a writer Jones passed the stages of his own racial and social awareness and found it necessary to inform the society about the current social tensions and the need for the African American people to distance from imitating of the while people and to look for their own identities, withstanding the oppression of the whites.

 

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]
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