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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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