Emperor Jones Characters And Themes

Topics: Black people, Bullet, The Emperor Jones Pages: 5 (1962 words) Published: March 12, 2015
CHARACTERS.
SMITHERS, Henry. The Cockney trader, "a tall, stoop-shouldered man of about forty," bald, with a long neck and a large Adam's apple. His dress is that commonly associated with colonial oppressors. His pasty-yellow face and rum-reddened nose are set off by his dirty white drill riding suit, puttees, spurs, and pith helmet. He wears a cartridge belt and an automatic revolver around his waist. He carries a riding whip. His eyes are pale blue, red-rimmed and ferretty. He is unscrupulous, mean, "cowardly and dangerous." He took in Brutus Jones when the latter landed on the island, hiring him despite his gaol record, or perhaps because of it since Jones accuses Smithers of having once been in prison, an accusation he vehemently denies. Basically he is an expository device in the play, serving to introduce information and at the end delivers the epitaph on Jones, for whom he has some curious respect. Smithers sees Jones as a more advanced person than the natives of the island, represented by Lem.

JONES, Brutus. He is the main character. "A tall, powerfully built negro of middle age. His features are typically negroid, yet there is . . . an underlying strength of will, a hardy, self-reliant confidence in himself that inspires respect." He has an air of intelligence, yet at the same time he is "shrewd, suspicious, evasive." He wears a somewhat garish uniform of a pale blue coat, "sprayed with buttons" and covered with gold braid, and red trousers, with a light blue stripe at the side; he sports patent leather boots with spurs, and carries a pearl-handled revolver in his belt. Nonetheless, he still projects an air of dignity rather than the merely ridiculous. Brutus Jones had arrived on this unnamed island two years ago as a stowaway, fleeing from the consequences of having killed a prison guard with a shovel during road work while serving time for killing a fellow Pullman porter, Jeff, in a gambling dispute. Helped along by Henry Smithers, Jones moves "from stowaway to Emperor in two years." At the beginning of the play he is supremely self-confident, making sure that Smithers realizes who is in charge and suggesting that the white man has himself been in prison, an allegation the cockney trader denies. Smithers offers a shock to this confidence by revealing that Lem, a native chief who had previously tried to have Jones killed, is plotting a revolution in the hills. Jones, however, has nothing but contempt for his subjects, whom he calls "low-flung bush niggers," and he has played on their superstition by claiming that he can be killed only by a silver bullet. He has even had one made and tells his simple subjects that he will kill himself when the time comes, " `cause I'm de on'y man in de world big enuff to git me. No use deir tryin.' " Jones, however, underestimates the cunning of Lem, who melts down coins and makes some silver bullets, one of which finally kills Jones. This is only the skeleton of Jones's character which is gradually revealed throughout the course of this expressionistic monodrama. After hearing Smithers's warning, Jones hears a tom-tom in the distant hills beating at seventy-two per minute, the "normal pulse beat," a drumming that will continue with accelerating beat and increasing volume without interruption throughout the play. He then decides it is time to put his plan of escape into effect, and to Smithers's rather "puzzled admiration," he leaves by the front door as the Emperor Jones, conscious of his own intellectual superiority and sure of his ability to outwit the forest. However, he is wrong, and the next six scenes of the eight-scene play demonstrate the decline of Brutus Jones from self-sufficient ruler who had easily put away his Baptist religion and laid "Jesus on de shelf" into a panic-stricken, almost naked creature calling, "Lawd Jesus, heah my prayer!" In the course of those scenes, Jones is driven almost mad by the obsessive and incessant drumming which has pursued him...
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