In the Dutchman, Leroy Jones attempts to highlight the notion that black Americans were angry and frustrated by how they were treated by the White majority. He seems to suggest that the play projected black manhood and identity to the extent that the blacks were attempting to make an emphatic gesture of rejection of the white world and ostensibly establish a black community.
The plot of Dutchman is bare and stark. Other than the background cast of Riders of Coach, and the brief appearances of Young Negro and Conductor, the play has only two characters, Clay, a twenty-year-old Negro, and Lula, a thirty-year-old white woman. The entire action of the play takes place in the flying underbelly of the city. Steaming hot and summer on top, outside. Underground, the subway heaped in modern myth. Clay and Lula engage in flirtatious repartee that becomes increasingly sharp and terse.
To Clay Lula is a white bohemian; to Lula, Clay is a typical middle-class young black, eager to achieve success on the terms laid down by white America. Lula becomes aggressive and insulting, calling him a liver-lipped white man ¦ just a dirty white man (31). Finally Clay slaps her and bursts into a long, uncontrollable, and dramatically powerful speech that begins to wrench away the middle-class fake-white-man facade and offer a glimpse into the tortured and conflicted psyche of a black man in America. He gains the upper hand but decides not to kill Lula. She, however, calmly stabs Clay as other subway riders look on passively, which suggests their complicity. She orders them to throw his body off the train. The train stops, and another young black man enters and sits near Lula. She follows his movements, hinting that the drama is going to be played out all over again.
It seem as though Baraka a.k.a Leroi Jones is set on furthering his course bent on condemning the white majority in the US. The play continues with Barakas theme centered around the plot that the white world being repeatedly described as evil, sick, and dying, and the creation of a positive black consciousness which is crucially linked to the declaration of white culture as evil and insane.
Through the main character Dule Hill, Baraka develops a retributive logic which is focused on the need for assertion of ethnic and racial identity. The play conveys his fixed, non-dialectic opposition between black and white, and these categories have the double load of racial and metaphysical meaning. Significantly, the opening action of the play revolves around looking and being looked at hence Dule Hill seems to view blackness as both a goal to be passionately struggled for, and the innate being of the African American [Kumar, 2003].
In the murder of Dule Hill, Baraka seems to reverse the widely spread idea of the white Western usage of black as a signifier of evil, death, and darkness to a new turn-around view were white is made to carry the suggestions of sickness, death, and absence. Even as the play begins with Jennifer Mudge chewing on an apple, we cannot fail to imagine the highly symbolic rendition of the Adam and Eve story, only in this case a naive bourgeois black man is murdered by an insane and calculating white seductress, who is coldly preparing for her next victim as the curtain comes down.
This depiction seems to further his goal of projecting black manhood and identity in such a way as to fan rejection of the white world through his cultivation of the feelings of retribution towards the white community, here represented by the character of the insane and calculating Jennifer Mudge.
One important point to note at this point is that a gesture is capable of sustaining a goal only up to a point, beyond which it turns into its own caricature. Thus the real gains made by the rhetoric of difference as depicted in this play can be appreciated only after its limitations have been acknowledged and put aside. An essential corollary to the goal of black consciousness is that it is often defined in terms of its rejection of, and independence from, the white world. As the play progresses, Baraka seems to be setting out the objectives of independence and self-determination for African Americans in strong, bold terms, he simultaneously moves the debate about the nature and definition of blackness, and also that of whiteness, to a more abstract level where he opens up our mind to think of the inherent possibilities of his ideas.
The enemy is not only the white person, who is easily identifiable, but the whiteness hidden in shades of blackness, where it can be more difficult to detect. Hence we find his retributive rhetoric turning not only against whites but also sometimes against blacks as well. Indeed, Baraka seems to be fostering the simple logic of revolt but achieves this through the safety of using words and art. See how he plays with words at the introductory stages when Jennifer Mudge opens the dialogue by commenting on the weight she is carrying, to which he replies, Doesnt look like much to me. Baraka seems to relish adding allegorical speech in her retort, Its so anyway.
He seems to hint, very unobtrusively, at the hiatus between being and looking. Also, Baraka effectively cements the discussion on looks by creating Mudges direct confrontation with her words, Werent you staring at me through the window? She follows it with a more startling charge that he was staring through the window down in the vicinity of her ass and legs. Thus, Baraka shifts to what Clay looks like and Lulas delineation of his character. Looking, both in its active sense of seeing and perceiving and in its passive sense of appearing, ends up forming the central preoccupation of this play.
Baraka, seems to achieve this with somewhat deliberateness, consciousness, and motive, all depicted in the character of Lula. We can analyze Lula and her strategies of perception by considering her that her every word and move, in retrospect, are loaded with significance and deliberateness. Her strategies are concerned with, and belong to, the realm of looking, appearance, and representation of self and others. This enables her to take charge of the rules of the game to a point that she seems to dictate the very rules of engagement, investing herself with elusiveness, unpredictability, and mysteriousness, eventually acquiring an extremely powerful and threatening dimension.
It is this very character that Baraka attempts to stamp as being at the core of the white world, the significance of which is the hope that it will bring back squarely, the rejection of the white world and ostensibly the establishment a black community. Both this efforts fail for Baraka since he fails to take hold of other vital attributers of revolt, that it must involve a pioneering leader filled with the bravery and courage to lead the minority masses to physical action. He, at best, only utilized the safety of words and art.
Bacalzo, D. Dutchman
Dutchman | Introduction
Kumar, N. The logic of retribution: Amiri Barakas Dutchman
African American Review, Summer-Fall, 2003
Rejection of the White World
Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones). The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones. New York: Freundlich, 1984.