Dutchman and The Slave

Dutchman and The Slave Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the symbolic meaning of Lula giving Clay an apple?

    Lula comes on the train with a bag of paper books and apples. She gives an apple to Clay, who eats it. The apple represents temptation, which Lula is using to lure Clay into her web of manipulation. And just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Clay and Lula are exposed to the truth that lies beneath the surface in each one of them, a truth that is far more painful and horrible than what is first presented: that American history has twisted and warped both of them, preventing Clay from being his authentic self and preventing Lula from seeing Clay as a human being.

  2. 2

    What is the narrative significance of the passengers coming onto the train in the second scene of the play?

    The play begins with Clay alone on a subway car. It ends with Lula alone, before another young black man and an aged black conductor enter the car. In the second scene, there are other passengers who come onto the train. One reason they might be there is that they will be witness to Clay's pain, and to Lula's murdering him. They represent the people who see what is happening and do nothing to stop it. They don't stop Clay from hitting Lula, and they don't help Clay when he is stabbed—they even toss his body out of the train. Thus they become the people who turn the other way and become the ruin of the city by staying neutral in order to "protect" themselves. Their complicity implicates the audience as well.

  3. 3

    What is the point of having the play take place in a subway car?

    The entire play is set inside a single car upon a subway train in New York City. The subway system is meant to connect to the city, but it becomes a metaphor for what horrible acts are being committed beneath its surface. It is both beneath the surface of the city and beneath the surface of the individual human being. Also, the subway is a means of transportation. Everyone aboard the train is going somewhere, and they are going to get there traveling in the same direction as the people with whom they ride. Yet, the play suggests, although we are heading into the future together, there are still many who do not want to share the ride with each other.

  4. 4

    What is the narrative significant of Dutchman's title?

    First, "Dutchman" was the name of the original slave ship that transported Africans to America; this historical reference situates what happens between Clay and Lula within a much longer, tortured history of slavery and racism. Second, there is a mythic element to the name, for The Flying Dutchman was a ghostly ship that haunted the Cape of Good Hope and could not dock due to a curse; it was an evil omen. Critic Hugh Nelson notes the similarities: "He has set the first half of his play in a subway car empty but for the two central figures; during the second scene, other passengers file in gradually until, at the play's climax, the car is full. The empty car and the full car are both necessary to the play. The private drama becomes a public ritual. Without the drama, the ritual would be meaningless while the ritual adds a new and important dimension to the drama."

  5. 5

    Why is Walker depicted as a slave in the prologue of The Slave?

    Walker as a fieldhand first situates the current events of the play in a long history of slavery, white ignorance, black rage, fragmented identities, and rebellion. The long-term causes of the rebellion taking place outside Grace and Easley's home are slavery and its concomitant racism. Walker is a stand-in for all slaves and all black people; he is neither young nor old, and he alternates between anger, frustration, and resignation. He is one of the "old blues people...as hard as nails, and takin' no shit from nobody" (45), but he is also powerless. He is broken, but he knows who he is, something which the Walker of the play's two acts needs to come to terms with. At the end of the play, Walker is that slave again, casting his attempt and attainment of individuality and authenticity into question. Yes, Owen Brady writes, he is "chained to white stereotypes and personal history," but the child's cry symbolizes birth, suggesting his sacrifice was not in vain and creation may indeed occur.