The Emperor Jones

Topics: Eugene O'Neill, The Emperor Jones, O'Neill Pages: 6 (1632 words) Published: October 24, 2010

by Eugene O’Neill

Information about the play:

The Emperor Jones was written in 1920 and staged at the same year in New York City. The production was very successful and helped make O’Neill’s reputation. O’Neill is affected by a real story which tells about the president of Haiti, Guillaume Sam, who boasts that he would be never killed by a lead bullet but a silver one. As O’Neill is impressed by this story, at first he makes the name of the play as The Silver Bullet but later he changes its name to “The Emperor Jones”. He reads a book about the religious feasts in Congo and he learns the use of the drum at festivals; that’s how he decides to reflect the agitated mind of Brutus Jones with the drum beats. He introduces a new style to the American theater “Expressionism”. What is in Jones' head, expressionism allows us to see him through.


Plot is the arrangement of events which are linked by cause and effect creates rise to the conflict. Simplicity of the plot is essential because the playwright has limited time to build up plot.

This play has a classical simplicity. The action begins on the afternoon and it ends by the dawn of the next day. Audience learn Jones’ past through the dialogue between Jones and Smithers in the palace. Jones’ murders, committed in the past and inner world’s characters are presented on the stage as his hallucinations. There is only one action; straightforward without any sub-plots.


Brutus Jones is a former Pullman porter in a railroad company in New York City. He kills a black man in a card game and then he kills a prison guard while he escapes from the jail. After his escape from the jail, he comes to an island, in West Indies. In this island, he declares himself as an emperor by manipulating the native settlers’ superstitions: He maintains that he cannot be killed by any kind of weapon but silver bullet. During 2 years governing period, he makes a fortune by exploiting the inhabitants. One day, native people rebel against him and he prepares his escape through forest for another country. However, he gets lost in the forest and the drum sounds of the rebellions as tomb-tomb makes him to feel more fear. The darkness of the forest leads him to see hallucinations of the people and incidents that belong to his past and racial consciousness. He uses his pistol and the lead bullets to get rid of such imagines. Finally, he uses silver bullet to kill crocodile God. At the end, he is captured and killed by the native people of the island.


The playwright must keep character portrayal as simple as possible for the audience to understand during the course of a single performance. There are two types characterization in drama generally flat and round characters. If a play is dominated by flat characters, the plot depend mainly on external conflict; concentrates on the action. If a play includes round characters, the plot deals with internal conflicts, the centering on characterization.

Brutus Jones (Emperor Jones), protagonist, is a tall, powerfully looking Negro of middle-age. At the beginning, he appears to be arrogant, self-reliant, confident and respected. Yet, later turns out to be panic driven, irrational fleer.

Henry Smithers: He is a white Cockney trader, about forty-year- old age. He dressed with colonial oppressor’s style. He is coward and dangerous man who hates the Emperor Jones.

Lem: A native chief, ape-faced savage of African kind.

Jeff: The Negro who is killed by Brutus Jones for cheating at a card game.

Prison Guard: The prison guard is killed by Jones during his escape from jail.

The Witch Doctor: In Congo, he performs an conjuration in order to sacrifice a human victim to Crocodile God.


Setting in drama demonstrates social mores, values and customs of the world in which the characters live: the physical world and the time of the action. In the play, there are two different settings. One...

Cited: Berlin, Normand. O 'Neill 's Shakespeare. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1993. 20-84. Print.
Dubost, Thierry. Struggle, Defeat or Rebirth. North Carolina: Mc Farland Company, 1997. 111-163. Print.
Estrin, Mark W., ed. Conversations with Eugene O 'neill. 3rd ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. 26-94. Print.
Houchin, John H., ed. The Critical Response to Eugene O 'Neill. 2nd ed. London: Greenwood Press, 1993. 44-52. Print.
Griffth, Kelley. Writing Essays about Literature. 7th ed. Boston: Thomson Corporation, 2006. 77-106. Print.
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