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Reports & Essays: Literature - Plays

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The Emperor Jones
by Eugene O'Neil In Eugene O'Neil's play, " The Emperor Jones", the theme is based on a moral; one should not pretend to be someone- one is not. Multiple repercussions may occur to someone who denies his/her background and race. Brutus Jones, the main character, assumes the persona of a free white man (Jones was really black and was supposed to be in slavery during that time). Because of Jones' denial, he is haunted by numerous illusions of his black heritage. He cannot free himself of these images and they finally succeed in forcing him to admit that he is black. Unfortunately, it is too late and he is finally killed by natives, after he is accused of plotting against his people. O'Neil introduces the theme of denial effectively. 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 representation of himself. Jones, a colored man, was expected to be a slave during the eighteen hundreds. Circumstances permit him to present himself as someone else and he claims to be a white man. This is how the reader meets him in the first scene. After O'Neil presents his theme of denial, he introduces subsequent scenes that are intended to arouse guilt within Brutus and force to face the truth about his identity. 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 does not want to 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 believes that he is merely a spectator, 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 religion. 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/her with his/her real identity, he/she might be saved. Unfortunately, the natives were too fearful of Jones to express such feelings. It wasn't until Jones was confronted by the people of his illusions and identified by them as a black person, that he admitted to being colored. At this point it was too late for Jones to turn back, and it ensued in his death.

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