Dutchman and The Slave

The Use and Construction of Myth in LeRoi Jones’ Dutchman

“The Flying Dutchman” is a nautical myth about a ghost ship fated to traverse the ocean waves for all eternity. The story is rooted in the legend of Hendrik van der Decken, a 17th-century Dutch Captain who dared to sail beyond the Cape of Good Hope despite treacherous weather conditions. As a result, he and his crew were damned to forever “beat about in these seas.” The spectre of the vessel, therefore, is said to sometimes be spotted from a distance, usually accompanied by an aura of ghostly light. The mere sight of the haunted ship itself is regarded by seafarers as a harbinger of bad weather, or, more generally, as a “portent of doom.”

In the play Dutchman, LeRoi Jones (alias Amiri Baraka) incorporates particular elements of this myth in order to dramatize the dilemma faced by African Americans adapting to life within the White, middle-class milieu. As represented by the play’s subway setting, the figure of Lula, and the culminating actions (manipulations) both she and the other subway passengers commit at Dutchman’s conclusion, Jones’ revision of “The Flying Dutchman” myth conveys the fixed, interminable nature of race relations and power structures existing in the United States. By the end of the play, Jones creates his...

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