Dramatizes Racial Hatred Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Audiences were shocked by the language and ideas of Dutchman, a venomous play by LeRoi Jones (who would soon be known as Amiri Baraka). The play was filled with the emotions of contempt, anger, and hatred, and it ended in emasculation and murder.

Summary of Event

LeRoi Jones emerged as a leading American playwright in 1964, when his striking drama Dutchman (pr., pb. 1964) was produced Off-Broadway at New York’s Village South Theatre. The play, which was widely acclaimed as one of the year’s best after it opened on March 24, catapulted Jones into the front ranks of African American writers, and he soon became known as an uncompromising black militant. In the wake of his newfound prominence, he severed many of his ties with white American culture; in 1966, he renounced the name “Jones” and became known as Imamu Amiri Baraka (he later dropped the name “Imamu”). Dutchman (Baraka) African Americans;writers Theater;avant-garde[avant garde] [kw]Dutchman Dramatizes Racial Hatred (Mar. 24, 1964) [kw]Racial Hatred, Dutchman Dramatizes (Mar. 24, 1964) Dutchman (Baraka) African Americans;writers Theater;avant-garde[avant garde] [g]North America;Mar. 24, 1964: Dutchman Dramatizes Racial Hatred[07990] [g]United States;Mar. 24, 1964: Dutchman Dramatizes Racial Hatred[07990] [c]Theater;Mar. 24, 1964: Dutchman Dramatizes Racial Hatred[07990] Baraka, Amiri Hansberry, Lorraine

Baraka became the leading writer of militant black theater. He articulated the African American condition. To support his work as a theater revolutionary, he founded the Black Arts Theatre and School Black Arts Theatre and School in Harlem. Much of the subject matter of Baraka’s works was designed to attack the “white establishment.” The objective Baraka sought through his drama was not integration but the separation of whites and African Americans: He wished to drive a wedge between them. Throughout his career, Baraka continued to write drama that denounced whites and to express a militant philosophy, espousing the need for African Americans to force whites to redress the injustices of the past and present. He strongly advocated the creation of a separatist society for African Americans. These themes remained evident in his activities and playwriting.

Dutchman makes use of the techniques of Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty Theater of Cruelty . The play’s major characters, Clay and Lula, force the audience to examine their prejudices through the violence of the dramatic action. Through them, Jones wanted to make audience members face and confront what he saw as the violent reality of the subconscious hatred buried in their psyches. He challenged his audiences to recognize that they created the moral standards by which they chose to live. Certainly, Jones wanted his viewers to see Clay and Lula as real people; at the same time, however, the play insists that these characters must be understood to be character types.

Dutchman is set in a New York City subway car, in which Clay and Lula are riding beneath the city. The action of the play thus takes place in the heart, the very infrastructure, of the city; the setting may be read as emblematic of the sociopolitical structure of the United States. As the dramatic action evolves, it is possible to see the “true” feelings of the characters as demonstrated by their language and gestures. The play’s action seems intended to represent the class struggle going on in society. Clay wants to be a man, but Lula hatefully attacks his attempts toward manhood; she asks him, accusingly, “What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit and striped tie? Your grandfather was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard.” Racial stereotypes are revealed in the play’s dialogue; Lula, for example, remarks on the black male’s supposed sexual ability.

The play’s title is metaphorical. The word “Dutchman” does not appear in the dialogue of the play. It could be a reference to the myth of the Flying Dutchman, the phantom ship forever doomed to sail the seas. The title may also allude to the Dutch ship that brought the first African slaves to the Americas. Whichever interpretation one prefers, the play is clearly a study of the black-white experience. Clay represents African Americans who are trying to live and survive in a white-controlled society; Lula stands for white efforts to prevent African Americans from achieving equal status in the United States.

The play is a blend of realism, expressionism, and absurdism. Jones successfully brought together realism in the play’s structure and characters, expressionism in the juxtaposition of the emasculation and the emancipation of Clay, and absurdism in the play’s dialogue. Moreover, Jones successfully pulled together emotions that represented frightening savagery. Jones’s anger toward, contempt for, and hatred of white culture was forcefully portrayed in the play’s raw, ugly, and repelling dramatic action.

Dutchman was powerful and compelling in its statement. Ritualistic violence underscored the representation of the conflict between African Americans and whites. Jones forced the audience’s attention on a variety of cultural and racial differences between African Americans and whites, creating a startling portrayal of white brutality and black accommodation in the United States.

In the tradition of the absurdist writings of the period, Jones created a world of black Clays and white Lulas. From Jones’s point of view, Clay was as much to be despised as Lula was to be hated. Clay represented “Uncle Tom” African Americans, accommodationists who had surrendered their heritage in an effort to conform to the demands of white society. Jones seems to have had nothing but cold hatred for the Clays of African American society; he saw them as emasculated, on a road leading to death.

Jones also expressed the same cold hatred for the white Lula. She stands as the play’s great contradiction: She seems to offer Clay the opportunity to be a free person, but she actually denies him any true hope. Freedom appears at hand, but in reality it is only domination that Clay receives from Lula. At the play’s conclusion, the ultimate domination occurs when Lula stabs Clay to death. The allegorical point of the drama is played out in Clay’s execution by Lula.

Dutchman gained positive critical acclaim. Despite the violent nature of the play, it was enthusiastically received by audiences. The play earned an Obie Award Obie Awards as the best Off-Broadway play of 1964. The major themes of venomous hate and intense violence expressed in Dutchman were evident in many of Jones’s other contemporary works, including The Baptism Baptism, The (Baraka) (pr. 1964, pb. 1966), The Toilet Toilet, The (Baraka) (pr., pb. 1964), and The Slave Slave, The (Baraka) (pr., pb. 1964), which revealed a similar disdain for white liberals and African American conformists. Jones’s plays viciously attacked American religious, social, and sexual life. The attacks, moreover, were not limited to his plays; in his short stories, poems, and novels, he expressed many of the same ideas.

Significance

The 1960’s were a time of social unrest, during which the United States experienced severe political, social, and racial turmoil. The theater created by Americans of color reflected this upheaval. Dutchman proved to be an important element in the African American drama of the 1960’s, both mirroring and fostering the African American militancy of the time. Although Dutchman was successful, both it and later works by Amiri Baraka were often criticized as being too blatantly antiwhite. Even some African American critics were not always pleased by his plays, which were sometimes seen as attempts by Baraka to set himself up as “blacker than thou.”

The success of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun Raisin in the Sun, A (Hansberry) in 1958 had shown African American drama to be a vital part of the U.S. theater scene. White audiences were challenged by such plays to examine their prejudices toward those seeking to escape the ghetto. Yet the work of Baraka and many others in the 1960’s reflected an unrestricted commitment to the cause of the African American. Black revolutionary theater brought to the United States a new aesthetic. This movement saw the creation of groups such as the Black Arts Theatre and School in Harlem; by the end of the decade, more than forty groups devoted to the production of African American drama had been created.

Dutchman was also, in part, responsible for the growth of a genre of African American literature known as the Black Arts movement Black Arts movement Literary movements;Black Arts movement . Younger black writers, including Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti), Ed Bullins, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, and Larry Neal, soon produced a torrent of African American-themed work that sought to establish the artistic validity of African American cultural idioms and that was often openly antiwhite. Dutchman was the opening shot in this volley of militant 1960’s works. With Dutchman, Jones opened the doors for African American writers to deal with a broad range of political, racial, and social themes. These works included examinations of the lives and times of African American historical figures, of race relations in the United States, and of the African American bourgeoisie. The African American plays of the 1960’s included African American militant dramas, comedies, allegories, ritual dramas, and even musicals.

Amiri Baraka’s influence on the drama of the 1960’s made him one of the cultural and spiritual leaders of the era. His leadership was best demonstrated by his revolutionary theater. Such prominent later African American playwrights as Ed Bullins, August Wilson, and Charles Fuller seemed to receive an impetus to excel as a result of the force Baraka brought to the ethnic theater. Moreover, Baraka’s revolutionary theater was a major factor in the appearance and success of agitprop street plays in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In recognition of his success as a playwright, director, poet, novelist, and activist, Baraka in 1972 received an honorary doctorate from Malcolm X College in Chicago, Illinois. Dutchman (Baraka) African Americans;writers Theater;avant-garde[avant garde]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allison, Alexander W., Arthur J. Carr, and Arthur M. Eastman, eds. Masterpieces of the Drama. 6th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1991. The editors provide an excellent dramatic analysis of Baraka’s Dutchman.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barnet, Sylvan, Morton Berman, and William Burto, eds. Types of Drama: Plays and Essays. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972. The editors discuss Baraka’s Home: Social Essays (1966), in which he explains the goal of revolutionary theater, and provides an interesting analysis of Dutchman.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Branch, William B., ed. Black Thunder: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Drama. New York: Mentor, 1992. A collection of plays examining the racial fabric of contemporary life in the United States. Each of the plays was written between 1975 and 1990. Branch provides an informative historical introduction to the collection and biographical sketches of each of the playwrights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brockett, Oscar G. The Theatre: An Introduction. 4th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979. Surveys the historical development of African American drama. Discusses the significant role Baraka has played through his work as a playwright, director, and leader in forming associations to promote black theater.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Lloyd Wellesley. Amiri Baraka. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A useful critical introduction to Baraka’s work. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Effiong, Philip Uko. In Search of a Model for African-American Drama: A Study of Selected Plays by Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, and Ntozake Shange. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000. Reads Baraka’s work alongside that of two prominent African American female playwrights in an attempt to theorize African American theatrical practice. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hudson, Theodore. From LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka: The Literary Works. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1973. Includes a chapter of biography based on interviews with Baraka and his parents. Analyzes Baraka’s philosophy as well as his essays, fiction, poetry, and drama of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Notes, index, bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, LeRoi. Tales. New York: Grove Press, 1967. Jones has written numerous essays, short stories, and poems expressing his view of the oppressiveness of the white culture in which he and other African Americans were forced to survive. His militant attacks on “whitey” and “Uncle Tom” liberals may put off some readers, who will nonetheless be challenged to examine Jones’s themes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lacey, Henry C. To Raise, Destroy, and Create: The Poetry, Drama, and Fiction of Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1981. A wide-ranging survey of Baraka’s literary achievement. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Watts, Jerry Gafio. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. New York: New York University Press, 2001. A study of Baraka’s life, his work, and his place in American intellectual and cultural history. Bibliographic references and index.

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