April 2020 ~ All About English Literature

For Exclusive Notes and Analysis

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Kenilworth as a Historical Novel

kenilworth as a historical novel
Walter Scott's Kenilworth as a Historical Novel

Scott's conception of historical novel is different from the common and traditional concept of history. Generally speaking, a historical novelist enlivens the great historical episodes in his novel but Scott is not so much interested in historical episodes as he is interested in historical characters. He never showed history in the making: he chose to show characters as they were made by history. He wanted to produce the spirit of English history more than the flesh and form.

Kenilworth is a historical novel in the sense that it is set against a historical background. The time is that of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The characters bear historical names, and the main events are also distilled from history. Above all, the spirit of Elizabeth's age is exhibited most artistically and realistically.

A number of historical inaccuracies can be mentioned in Kenilworth. Scott always treated history with perfect disregard of inconvenient facts and dates. There are many illustrations of this in Kenilworth. Robert Dudley was the fifth son of the Duke of Northumberland, who was executed by Queen Mary for his attempt to crown his son, Lord Guildford Dudley, the husband of Lady Jane Grey. In the year 1550, Robert Dudley had married Amy Robsart when he himself was but nineteen years old. The ceremony contained no element of secrecy, Edward VI himself being present.

Thus in1560, Dudley had been married for ten years but Kenilworth represents the marriage as of recent occurrence, and Amy's father and lover in distress because they had not yet been able to find tidings of her whereabouts. Dudley was not at this time Earl of Leicester, title being conferred on him in 1563, three years after Amy's death, when Elizabeth put him forward as a suitable husband for Mary Queen of Scots.

There are, as historical evidence, letters, written by the then Spanish ambassadors in England. In 1559, De Feria wrote to Philip of Spain that Elizabeth was "enamoured of my Lord Robert Dudley, and will never let him from her side. His wife has a cancer on the breast and the Queen only waits till she dies to marry him."

Another letter written by De Quandra in 1560, states that Cecil had told the writer, "Dudley had made himself master of the business of State and of the person of the Queen.....and that they were thinking of destroying Lord Robert's wife ..... They had given out that she was very ill, but she was not ill at all; she was very well, and taking care not to be poisoned."

The conclusion of Kenilworth is mysterious. It is different from the historical records. Leicester determines to kill his wife but relents; his servants go beyond their orders and kill her before their master can prevent them. In real life, however, Varney and Foster have no share in the tragedy and no evidence against them has been found. Scott in his notes has accepted this fact. He says. "If faith is to be put in epitaphs, Anthony Foster was something the very reverse of the characters represented in the novel."

Scott has also altered Sir Walter Raleigh out of history. Though the gallant incident of the cloak is the traditional and his historical account of this celebrated statesman's rise at court, but Raleigh's pride and boldness have been put to a stake in the novel. In his descriptions of the Cumnor Hall and the Kenilworth Castle, Scott makes use of his poetic gifts; his imagination overpowers his sense of fact. The bedsteads with their furniture, chairs, stools, cushions, carpets, pictures have been described with capitalized details.

Scott was competent to deal with history. He knew a lot of English history. He was called the 'glutton of books,' as he had read almost all the great romances, old plays, and epic poetry. He had the contemporary life, such as most of Miss Edgeworth's. His handling of history in Kenilworth may not be precisely historical, but it is plausibly historical. He aims at depicting the manners and customs' of the time of Queen Elizabeth.

The main interest in Scott's historical novels is often not historical and the historical interest is at least always divided with purely fictitious interest. In Waverley, the hero and heroine are historical ; and the same is true of Old Mortality, Ivanhoe, The Fortunes of Nigel and The Abbot. Kenilworth is different only in appearance. Amy Robsart bears a historical name but she is really the typical tragic heroine, and Leicester is the conventional villain with some facts taken from Dudley's life for a historical semblance. The attention is thus distracted from Elizabeth, Mary, James, Cromwell, and the young Stuart Pretenders. In adopting this method of dealing with history, which was in part Shakespeare's also, Scott was able to give within the vaguely defined boundaries of fact and legend, a very free play to his imagination.

Hence Kenilworth is realistic when it deals with lowly life, but the prevailing mood is romantic with historical bias. It is not a pure history; it is a beautiful blend of history and romance.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Use of Interior Monologue in The Emperor Jones

Use of Interior Monologue in The Emperor Jones
Use of Interior Monologue in The Emperor Jones

The technique of interior monologue means the use of the speech of a character to himself. He himself is the speaker and listener. He uses this device to open his mind, to reveal his inner being, his dreams and desires, fears and anxieties, his aspirations and emotions. Since The Emperor Jones is a psychological drama or expressionistic play, the dramatist has used the technique of the interior monologue very effectively and successfully. The device is used to express the soul or psyche of a character, Emperor Brutus Jones.

The first scene and the last scene of the play consist of realistic dialogue in the best manner of O'Neill, but the central six scenes (scene ii to scene vii) which take place at night in the forest, are sustained pieces of the interior monologue of Jones. It is through the use of monologue that we have been given a peep into the terror-stricken, anguished soul of Brutus Jones. A brief analysis of these forest scenes shows a step by step spiritual disintegration and regression of the erstwhile emperor. In these scenes he is seen continuously talking to himself, as visions from his personal past of crime and evil-doing, as well as from his racial past, crowd in upon him.

In scene second we find Jones in the grip of an extremely intensified fear-complex. He is continuously talking to himself in order to get rid of the nervousness and fear to which he has become subject Owing to the woods and the threatening beat of the tom-tom. He has mistaken the route which he should have taken and when he looks for the white stones where he had hidden his food, he finds that they have disappeared.

In Scene third, we have retrospective dramatic monologue in which Jones imagines that he is seeing the ghostly figure of the Negro Jeff whom he had killed in a quarrel over a game of dice. This figure is nothing but a hallucinatory apparition conjured by the over-wrought brain of Jones. He addresses it directly and tries to talk to it. "Finally, not finding any response, he gets nervous and fires at the apparition with furious rage. The moment the smoke clears away, he finds that he is alone in the forest."
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In scene fourth we find a completely exhausted and miserable Jones, the erstwhile emperor. He tears away the “frippery Emperor trapping’s" from his body. It makes him feel lighter. Throughout he continues talking to himself in a wild fashion. The things which he keeps seeing have made him absolutely nervous. He tries to reassure himself that there are no such things and tells himself: "You jus' seein' dem things cause yo' belly's empty and you's sick with hunger inside".

Almost immediately after this he has another hallucinatory vision and prays loud to Lord Jesus. His guilty conscience makes him see the vision of that white prison-guard who had whipped him across the back and whom he had killed in a fit of anger. The whole scene is re-enacted on the stage of his mind. He shouts with baffled, terrified rage, lugging frantically at his revolver. He addresses the figure of the guard directly and fires point blank at his back. Immediately the whole vision is blotted out and Jones stands alone in darkness.

In scene fifth, as the night advances, Jones through the forest becomes more and more tormented. His morale has sunk and his loss of courage is no longer kept up. In anguish he sits and moans, raising to "Lawd Jesus, 'the desperate cry of a poor sinner', and asserting that 'De Lawd' II preserve me from dem haunts." But his words lack conviction as his faith is not deep enough. As the primitive jungle tightens its grip over Jones, he throws away his shoes, adding truthfully, "Emperor you 'se gitting mighty low."

The hallucinatory visions presented in Scenes sixth and seventh, are two of the greatest triumphs of the modern psycho-analysis and the law of mental association. The first of these visions makes Jones feel that he has already been sold as a slave and be finds himself on board a galley where he is plying at the oars like a common galley-slave.

Finally, the unconscious associations in Jones' mind carry him to the original home of his ancestors, into the dark and dreadful jungles of Africa, where in a horrifying vision he joins in the crooning and dancing of the Congo Witch-Doctor who by a gesture seems to tell him that he must offer himself as a sacrifice in order to appease an angry god. Then the huge head of a crocodile, with wide open jaws, appears on the stage and Jones, hypnotized by the fascinating glare of its green eyes, moves towards it with deliberately slow steps, all the time praying to Lord Jesus to have mercy on him. Then, all of a sudden, the spell is broken and coming out of his trance Jones fires at the crocodile. Immediately the whole vision disappears and, "Jones lies with fear flat on the ground, his arms outstretched, whimpering, as the throb of the tom-tom fills the silence about him with a sombre pulsation, a baffled but revengeful power."

Throughout these scenes Jones is alone on the stage. All these six scenes are sustained pieces of interior monologue. Through these monologues of the ex-emperor, his tortured and anguished soul is laid bare before the readers. They are clever pieces of psycho-analysis such as had never before been presented on the American stage. Throughout we are concerned with what is passing in the mind of Jones; our involvement in his spiritual plight is total.
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Expressionism in The Emperor Jones

Expressionism in The Emperor Jones

Expressionism in The Emperor Jones

Expressionism is a revolt and protest against: society. In drama it is a technique that lays emphasis on inner reality or stream of consciousness. The inner reality is communicated through various devices such as masks, asides, Soliloquies, broken dialogues, stage-effects such as lighting, costumes, etc. The dramatist deforms the plot and depersonalizes the characters. The characters, events and the scenes are as few as possible. The play is not divided into Acts but into Scenes. The photography of realism, the dramatic sequences of events, is abandoned for a stream of consciousness in terms of stage-symbols whereby the surface of life becomes disjointed, scattered, as in a dream. There are also distortions and exaggerations in expressing the abstract through the concrete.

The play being a psychological study of Brutus Jones, his visions, is and scars and his consciousness, is an attempt to show what is happening in his soul. Further, the use of symbols, its loose structure, the technique of interior monologue, blend of past and present, and the use of stage effects to express inner reality, are some of the things that make The Emperor Jones an expressionistic drama.

Scenes II to VII which take place at night in the forest are expressionistic. But in these fantasy scenes the movement is straight-forward, O'Neill writes with an eye on the clock, and the passing spiritual decay and regression of Jones, and the end of each scene is marked by Jones' firing a bullet. Indeed, there are as many bullets in his revolver as there are scenes and in each scene some vision from his personal unconscious' or his collective unconscious presented, and the vision disappears as soon as a bullet is fired.

The expressionist seeks to solve the problem by representing the soul of man in the form of external symbols. He produces figures moving obscurely on a darkened stage to personify good or bad motives. He gives words to unseen voices to express the secret thoughts of a man's mind. O'Neill has also used symbols in The Emperor Jones. For example, Brutus Jones symbolizes the irrational and brutish in every man, the silver bullet is the symbol of his pride, and it also stands for worldly wealth and greed for money. The dark and dense forest symbolizes the inner darkness and confusion of Jones, his escape through the forest is symbolic of his escape from his own self, from the memories of his criminal past.
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In an expressionistic play, the number of characters is cut down to the minimum. The attention is focused on the central figure, and the other characters are not individualized. They serve merely as it background to throw into sharp relief the central figure. In The Emperor Jones the attention is focused throughout on Brutus Jones, and the other characters arc merely background figures.

The expressionists are not concerned with individuals at all. They write of capitalism, industrialism and so forth, but they make no attempt to personify any one of these in a realistic guise. They have no quarrels with individuals but only with systems. In this respect the Leftists believe that The Emperor Jones is an expressionistic play.

Not only is the structure of the plot in an expressionistic drama loose but also the pattern of dialogue is different. The substitute o symbolic types for individual human beings have caused a change in dialogue. The expressionist does not attempt realistic conversation. In an expressionistic play dialogue is used to reveal the pre-speech love and disjointed inner thoughts of the character. In The Emperor Jones O'Neill has used realistic dialogue only in the first and the last scenes and in the remaining six scenes instead of realistic dialogue the dependence is one monologue, and what happens inside the mind of Jones.

In order to render the inner terrors of the chief protagonist, O'Neill has made extensive use of interior monologue.

The one of most of the expressionistic plays is pessimistic and they end at the note of tragedy. The end of The Hairy Ape is tragic, so it is of The Emperor Jones. The play is a tragedy and ends with the death of the hero. The final scene is important for the portrayal of Jones as a tragic hero who died as he lived, with a kind of grandeur, false though it was.

An expressionistic play is usually formless and chaotic. The action moves backward and forward in time in keeping with the thought processes of the chief protagonist. However, O'Neill has skillfully avoided this pitfall of the expressionistic play. The internal and external action has been fully synchronized and the formlessness and chaos of the usual expressionistic play has been skillfully avoided.

Hence, The Emperor Jones is the greatest of American expressionistic plays. The story of flamboyant Negro, enacted to the frenzy of the tom-tom, the sustained monologue and the rapidly shifting setting framed into one single desperate action, were all unique features that made the play an instant success as a superb expressionistic drama.
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11 Reasons Why Students of English Literature Fail

11 Reasons Why Students of English Literature Fail
11 Reasons Why Students of English Literature Fail

Within my short span of teaching career I have made a small survey on the majority of beginners and students of English Literature entirely relying upon my own assumption. On entering into the degree course, raked up by emotion and excitement they used to believe that they are going to win the world by storm as they are pursuing such a ROYAL subject of international repute. As if they speak English, eat English, dream English, and live English and what’s not. Yes they move by fashion rather than passion. They don’t understand the basic difference between language and literature.

After attending few lectures their spur and zeal of learning English Literature is gradually getting slow and fading away. A few turn their wheel on the reverse direction, while others drive their car by merely pushing forward in a limping manner. That’s the reason why they have to kiss the dust at last.

I have noticed so many students without text books while I was teaching on topic. And also I have seen a good number of students took books from library for show and after several days returned those without turning a single page.

Without a least trace of doubt that the steady and serious minded students guided by love and passion for English literature succeed in securing handy marks at the end and thus they win the race. 

I have seen in many groups that boys and girls often complaint about their supply in B.A or M.A English. And those who pass the exam have very low marks.

Keeping in view the above fact I am sharing you some facts about their failure and low marks.

1. They join private tuitions or online academies where same stuff is given to hundreds of candidates. Stuff is given to the candidates to clear their main idea about the topic, to clear the concept and write in their own language. But most of the students remember the same stuff and paste it on the paper as it is. When an examiner checks the copy he finds that there is no creativity in the answer and it becomes the very first reason of failure.

 2. Students focus more on mere reading rather than real reading. If Hamlet (Shakespeare’s play) is there in the syllabus most of the student will not study a single word than the play. What is the background of the play? What is writer’s ideology and inspiration behind the play? In nutshell, they don’t focus on Why When and How of the play.

3. Cramming the note and vomiting on the answer paper is a quite common practice among the students. yeah this may be necessary for obtaining good marks. Remember at the end of the day, talent differs. Before cramming any note go through it minutely and understand the meaning, context, author's intention, structure etc.

 4. Academies don’t focus on making you creative rather they spoils you. They provide you stuff which is already in some books or there on internet. Ask you to remember that clear the story and their job is done. They don’t tell you about the theories, they don’t tell you about criticism being made on the play, novel or poetry. They don’t ask you to go through different research paper on the same topic. They may be well-educated teachers but not well-trained for the purpose of teaching.

5. Procrastination is a deadly habit specially for the English Literature students. They browse and collect notes and books and save those in the cart thinking they have enough time before exam. But finally they are trapped in their own crafted trap. 

6. Only reading doesn't make you sense. There are quite a few students who only read and read and read. Writing earns your perfection. So after clearing a note go with your pen and paper. Besides writing helps your time management and boost your writing speed in the exam hall. So plant the habit of writing.

7. Students don’t have writing skills. There are some students with exceptional ideas but they don’t know how to pen down those ideas. They don’t have stock of words. They are unable to write what is there in mind and ultimately in finding substitute for the words they make mistakes.

8. Lack of consciousness in English grammar skill may kill a student. So be serious about following strict grammatical rules. one or two minor or unintentional mistakes can be accepted. But extensive use of ungrammatical sentences is a serious offence in the lens of English Literature.

9. One of the major mistakes that English Literature students commit is spelling mistake which has never been acknowledged even at this standard.  

10. One must keep one thing in mind. There is no hard and fast rule for the success. If you want to have good marks in subject like English Literature you need to work hard.

11. It is good to collect material from books, notes, internet, pages, etc… But it’s not enough. It only works if you will write answer of your own merging all the facts on a single paper sheet. 

Don't forget to share your knowledge on this article in the comment section.

Collective Unconscious in The Emperor Jones

Collective Unconscious in The Emperor Jones

Collective Unconscious in The Emperor Jones

The Emperor Jones is a clever piece of psychoanalysis. It is expressionistic play in which the psychological or inner reality is subject-matter. In the expressionistic drama, the playwright effectively to express internal action dreams, visions, aspirations, desires, emotions and the like, the technique of interior monologue dramatic monologue. The device of the monologue, the speech of an individual to himself, is thus used to express the soul or psyche of a character both by the stream of consciousness novelists and expressionistic dramatists. O'Neill has used it in his plays very effectively and successfully.

The play was written under an impact of the theories of modern psychologists like Freud, Bergson and Jung, to illustrate in particular Jung's concept of collective consciousness, that is, the past of a person influences his present and future. The mind of a given man contains ideas from the collective unconscious which come to him simply to virtue of his membership in the human race as well as ideas inherited from his own specific race, tribe and family. His mind contains, in addition, unconscious ideas and symbols arising from his unique personal situation to make up the structure of his personal unconscious.
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Finally, from his personal unconscious emerges his own consciousness, his ego. So by collective unconscious' Jung means one's racial memories which lie buried deep in the unconscious; by 'personal unconscious' he means memories of one's own past actions particularly memories of one's sins and evil doings and then there is the "personal conscious" or ego of the individual.

In the play O'Neill has shown how the ego or self of Emperor Jones breaks down under the impact of terror, and how his personal and racial memories crowd in upon him, cause the disintegration of ego or personal consciousness. It is in this way that the past of Jones determines his present, and leads to his decay and undoing.

The Emperor Jones is a record of the gradual breaking down Brutus Jones' conscious ego and the revelation of his personal and collective unconscious. The first two visions of Jeff and of the Prison Guard-proceed from his personal unconscious, but the later hallucinations proceed from a racial memory, for Jones had never actually undergone the traumatic experience of being auctioned as a slave, nor had he a direct knowledge of any Congo Witch-Doctor. Yet under the influence of fear, when his veneer of culture is not there to protect him, his racial unconscious projects frightening visions and completely subjugates his conscious mind.

The sin of pride seen in all tragic heroes had a particular meaning for O'Neill and Jung. Man commits a fatal error when he relies on his conscious ego too much in order to fulfill his needs, without acknowledging the power of the unconscious. Hence, the unconscious is viewed by O'Neill as the equivalent of the Greek gods. His play seems to preach the moral that for happiness man must find the golden mean between humility and pride, reconciling the unconscious needs with the conscious ones. Self-knowledge is something that all should strive for.

O'Neill's protagonists seem very much like Shakespeare's Lear "who but slenderly knew himself". They move towards self-discovery painfully, and arrive at it just before the end. Jones like Lear, is slowly stripped of all 'lendings' to become "unaccommodated man.” The gradual disintegration of his conscious ego, the revelation of his personal and collective unconscious and his flight from himself (the fundamental self from which his blind pride and its self-image have so long separated him, and which inevitably comes into its own) constitute the dramatic movement.
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Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Is Brutus Jones a Tragic Hero?

Is Brutus Jones a Tragic Hero?

Is Brutus Jones a Tragic Hero?
What type of character is Brutus Jones considered in Eugene O Neill's play The Emperor Jones?

The hero of The Emperor Jones is a remarkable creation. He has attained a stature, and is a person of some magnitude. He has not been involved in any physical conflict. It is through his own egotism and pride, through his exploitation of the natives, that he has provoked a revolution. His own hubris has brought about his downfall. But the main interest lies in following his mental reactions, his cogitations, and imaginary fears.

Who is the protagonist of the play The Emperor Jones?

Brutus Jones resembles the heroes of the Greek tragedies in so far as his own pride and egotism have antagonized him with others, and he wishes to belong to the universal order. Like other tragic heroes, Brutus Jones also has his epiphany or the moment of the self-realization. But O'Neill's hero is the twentieth century character involved in conflict with himself. Doris Folk has observed in connection with O'Neill's heroes : "An O'Neill protagonist is not compelled to make choices between alternate actions in order to accomplish another action ; he must make a choice between the alternate images of the self in order to discover the real-self which he often fails to do.”

Thus, O'Neill's heroes are engrossed in their conflict with self-images and real images. They must realize their true-self from which they have been removed. In this process, they clash with other characters.

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Doris Falk, further comparing characters in Aristotle and O'Neill, points out that in Aristotle the character reveals a moral purpose. But in case of O'Neill's heroes there is "the ethos or moral : purpose of the character to perpetuate and strengthen an illusion about himself.” Thus every hero including Brutus Jones has created a self-image which he regards as the real image, but it runs against his real image or self. The false image causes hatred of the self and this impels him to run after something illusory, and this is the hero's hubris. O'Neill's hero has neurotic pride which entails his suffering and doom. Brutus Jones' self-image is born of his pride and dishonesty.

Brutus Jones is not an Aristotelian hero. Aristotle laid down the hero of a tragedy must be an exceptional individual, a man of high rank, a king or a prince, so that his fall from his former greatness would arouse the tragic emotions of pity and fear. All Shakespeare heroes fulfill this requirement. But Jones, the central figure in the play is not a hero in the Aristotelian sense. He is a crook with a shady criminal, who freely exploits the natives and by his superior cunning becomes their emperor within two years. No doubt he is superior to the natives in intelligence but he is entirely lacking in that nobility and greatness of soul which the tragic hero should have.

Pride is the fatal flaw in Jones' character. His pride makes him contemptuous of the natives over whom he rules, of the laws which he himself has made, and of his role as an emperor which he calls "a circus show” and which he stages not for love of it, but for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious negroes. He is contemptuous even of the white Smithers. He is like the enslaved mankind to whom Prometheus had taught the use of fire. His first instinct is to despise all those who are still in bondage, to turn traitor to his own people, and to enslave them, as he himself had been enslaved, by superior knowledge and trickery of the whites.

Jones’s pride and arrogance make him a tyrant. He exploits the natives and extorts money from them, till the repression becomes intolerable and they rise against him in revolt. Their revolt is the direct outcome of his pride and wrong-doing. He knew that the natives were bound to revolt against him sooner or later, and had carefully planned his escape from the island. On the fateful day, he ran away from the palace with great self-confidence, but to no avail. He is ultimately killed by the natives with a silver bullet, the symbol of his pride and greed. 'Thus, it is his pride that is responsible for his downfall and death. But he is not fully purged of his pride because it is a silver bullet alone that has killed him. So his death is not cathartic in the Aristotelian sense either. He is not purged of his faults.

O'Neill has not exalted his hero. He has reversed the tragic process ; instead of going up the spiritual ladder, Jones goes down. The regression of Brutus Jones is akin to Lear's stripping, but Lear gains spiritually what he loses psychologically. Instead of revealing the nobility and grandeur of the human soul, Emperor Jones shows that man is essentially a beast and we find that his progress in civilization has made him a bundle of nerves.
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Symbolism in Emperor Jones

Symbolism in Emperor Jones

Symbolism in Emperor Jones

A literary symbol unites an image and an idea. Malarme explained symbolism as the art of evoking an object little by little so as to reveal a mood'. Working as an experimentalist, O'Neill adopted symbolism because with the help of symbols he could say more than ordinary speech. The symbols could serve to interpret a theme, to make it acceptable, as an escape, to awaken dormant or suppressed experience, as adornment or exhibition. But O'Neill used them time and again to express mental states, dream, visions and inner experiences.

The setting, the characters, the flight through the forest, the forest itself, the tom-tom, the silver bullet, the stone altar and tree, the crocodile etc. in the play have symbolic significance.

Symbolism in Setting

The setting is symbolic. The forest with its sensuous blackness represents nature, while its primeval terror represents the primitive consciousness. In fact, standing at once for the glory and horror of human freedom, the forest assumes numerous shapes (e.g., prison, auction-room, ship, and altar). The flight through the forest symbolizes psychological regressive fight from one's own self. As mentioned by Doris Falk, the "stone altar near the tree combines the sexual and the religious symbols as if to signify that physical and spiritual births are one." Jones's feeling that he has come to a familiar place indicates symbolically that he has returned to the primitive stage of evolution. And now evil which has been his God appears as a crocodile and demands life. In killing it, therefore, Jones kills himself. The action starts in the afternoon which signifies confidence, continues at night which is the symbol of terror, retrogression and disintegration, and ends at dawn which stands for retribution.

Symbolism in Characters

The characters are also used as symbols. Brutus stands for the brute power of man, his animal instincts and impulses. Thus, Brutus Jones is the symbol of every man. He is also a symbol of man's vain boast of power. He as the Negro is the symbol of displaced superstitious humanity, of innocence and violence, of elemental simplicity and primal humanity. Loss of his hat, coat, spurs, represents the stripping off the layers of civilization.

What does the silver bullet signify in Emperor Jones?

In The Emperor Jones, the silver bullet is the symbol of materialism, of that superstition by which the dishonest rich have made the world believe that their very riches could save them from the revenge of their victims, just as Jones had made the natives believe that he could be killed only by a silver bullet. The silver bullet is also the symbol of the white man's mask under which he works. It is the symbol of his pride of release from bondage, the fetish of his particular pride.
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Symbolism in Theme

On the surface the play is the story of a negro emperor, his guilty and sinful past, his rise to kingship, his fears and nervousness, and his escape from the aggressive natives, and ultimately his death. But symbolically the flight represents the soul's attempt to seek salvation and freedom from bondage. The progress of Jones is progress in self-understanding it is the stripping off of the masks of self, layer by layer, just as bit by bit his emperor's uniform is ripped off from his back, until at the end he must confront his destiny himself-in nakedness.

The Symbolic Significance of the Tom-Tom

The beating of the tom-tom is equally symbolic. According to Edwin Engel, "The beating tom-tom symbolizes the all-pervasive and inescapable presence of the primitive.” The tom-tom beats in the camp of the 'bush niggers' to which Jones is helplessly drawn and it beats in Jones's body, representing the primitive blood which charges through his arteries. Beginning at a rate corresponding to the normal pulse beat and only faintly heard, it becomes perceptively louder and more and more rapid as Jones becomes increasingly terror-stricken, as his visions are regressively aboriginal, as he approaches the camp of the bush niggers, when he is finally killed with a silver bullet, the tom-tom instantly ceases.

Colour Symbolism

O'Neill has made use of colour symbolism in many of his plays, such as, Thirst, Warnings and The Emperor Jones. The emperor’s audience chamber has whitewashed walls, a floor of white tiles, and the portico having white pillars. Since Brutus is a negro, a black man, the white colour has both a moral and a racial meaning. Jones has made a spectacular rise by imitating the shrewd and clever ways of white men but his blackness in the form of his heredity causes his tragedy. It should also be noted that whiteness is also the symbol of death-in-life, Jone's white imperial existence is nothing but a death-in-life, and to Smithers whiteness is the symbol of the tomb. The scarlet colour has also its significance in the play. To Jones it is a symbol of imperial authority, but, in fact, it stands for materialism, sinfulness, violence and blood. Again and again Smithers makes use of its last meaning by swearing "bloody" and "bleeding". He calls Jones "the bleedin' nigger."

Symbolism of Crocodile

The crocodile stands for the evil of the self. Doris V. Falk says. “from the symbolism of the dance and the use of the silver bullet, we know that the evil represented by the crocodile is the evil of the self that in killing it Jones has killed himself--at least, that distorted image of the self which was his life motivation. He has performed the justice demanded by the dance.”


In this play, O'Neill has achieved a remarkable synthesis of symbol and dramatic action of the inward and the outward. Brutus Jones emerges as a gigantic universal figure whose terror strikes. But the symbolism aspect has been mixed with realism to make the play concrete and more acceptable.
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