Jones’s palace. The play opens in the lavish palace building of the unnamed island nation, where Jones, an escaped convict and former Pullman porter from the United States, lives. With the help of his Cockney sidekick, Smithers, he rules the island as its “emperor.” Jones and Smithers have tricked the superstitious islanders into thinking that Jones has magical powers and cannot be hurt, except by a silver bullet. Jones keeps one to use on himself if suicide becomes necessary. Having extorted money and services from the impoverished islanders, Jones lives opulently.
Great forest. The last six scenes of the play occur at night in the great forest that surrounds the palace. Within this forest, Jones–who is running around in circles–is visited by the apparitions of people whom he has killed or cheated. His past returns to haunt him. Meanwhile, the beating of tom-toms is pervasive, beginning at seventy-two beats a minute, the rate of the human heart, and accelerating as Jones’s terror increases.
The play’s dark and forbidding jungle scenes contrast with the palace scene. O’Neill uses the forest locale and the darkness to highlight Jones’s isolation and desperation. In the final scene, dawn breaks. As angry islanders advance on the deposed emperor, a shot rings out and Jones falls. Lem, the local ruler whom Jones overthrew, explains that the islanders spent the entire night fashioning a silver bullet.
Slave ship. Imaginary vessel that appears in Jones’s hallucination in scene five. To demonstrate his mental deterioration, Jones imagines that he is a slave being auctioned off at a slave sale. In the following scene, wearing only a breech cloth, Jones huddles in the hold of a crowded ship surrounded by shadowy figures, presumably slaves who have been snatched from their homes and are being transported to a market. His groans and cries fill the theater as the light fades. As the hallucination ends, Jones scrambles off into the underbrush of the great consuming forest.
Altar. Structure before which the exhausted, disoriented Jones sinks in scene seven and experiences another hallucination. He imagines that a witch doctor from the Congo appears and does a macabre ritualistic dance, making Jones realize that he is to be sacrificed upon the altar, the symbol of an authority greater than his.