Dutchman and The Slave

Dutchman and The Slave Themes

Race Relations and Conflicts (Dutchman and The Slave)

It is clear that race relations are the main theme of the play. Jones has a very deeply pessimistic outlook on race relations, suggesting that if African-Americans take a more passive and peaceful approach in dealing with racist structures and systems, white supremacy will still eventually find a way to impose itself upon them and ultimately destroy them; such is the case with Clay and Lula. The title of the play itself is an allusion to the exceedingly cynical outlook on the matter of race relations: it is a reference to The Flying Dutchman, the legendary ghost ship cursed to sail the seas and never find a port. The play posits that attempts to better race relations, no matter how well-intentioned, are ultimately a doomed endeavor—much like the cursed vessel. In The Slave, Walker has to come to terms with what being a black man in racist America means for him—for his marriage, for his children, for his psyche, and for his intellectual pursuits. He is torn, fragmented, and despairing; he comes to see who he really is, but this comes at a great cost.

The Mutability of the African-American Male’s Identity (Dutchman and The Slave)

Clay's name suggests malleability and Walker's suggests itinerancy, which is Jones's way of suggesting that a black man in America is fighting to carve out an identity in a country that has denied him autonomy, individuality, and power for centuries. Both Clay and Walker are torn between aspects of white society, culture, and their own nascent or burgeoning identities within their race. Walker is a leader of the black liberation movement but is anguished by his love for Western literature, politics, and a Western woman (Grace). Clay is, Lula sneers, a wannabe white man in his attire and composure, full of repressed rage and sexuality. She's speaking from a place of her race's prejudices and fears, but she isn't entirely wrong about Clay not really knowing who he is. His monologue expresses this, especially when he sadly concludes that he doesn't exactly know what to do about his anger.

Stereotypical Sexuality of African-American Men (Dutchman)

Jones asserts that mainstream society largely expects the average African-American male to assume the socially-manufactured persona of the swaggering, ultra-alpha, hyper-sexualized male. Lula is written as a representation of how white mainstream culture pigeonholes and ultimately tries to define the sexual identity of the African-American male. Ironically, Lula is a temptress patterned after Eve, as evidenced by the presence of the apple: she is the aggressive one, initiating the barely-restrained sexual innuendoes. Clay responds warily to her baiting, responding to a flirtation with a flirtation but not aggressively pursuing Lula. The play suggests that the norm for men of Clay’s age and generation is that they ought to be the sexual aggressor. Clay’s actions confirm that it is indeed foolishness and weakness to not accept Lula’s advances, but his inability or refusal to respond to her overt come-ons makes a compelling case against his supposed masculinity.

Complicity (Dutchman)

The subway is empty when Lula begins her seduction of Clay, but, over time, it begins to be filled with other people. They listen and watch as Lula berates Clay, behaves crazily, and eventually kills him. At her request, they throw his body out of the car and eventually file out without a care or misgiving. They are public witnesses to this very public ritual, complicit in Clay's death. Jones suggests they are just as complicit because they did nothing to stop it, which also forces the audience/reader to acknowledge how he or she might be doing something similar.

Slavery (Dutchman and The Slave)

While both plays are set in contemporary America, there are numerous allusions to slavery. Lula mocks Clay as an Uncle Tom and references plantations. Clay says plantations are where the blues were born. Walker is seen in the guise of an old field hand at the beginning of the The Slave (the title is obviously key here!) and returns to that persona at the end. Slavery is the historical explanation for the marginalized position of black people in the 1960s, and the power dynamics are still mirrored in those of Lula/Clay and Easley/Walker, as well as in society as a whole between black and white.

Women as Bitch and/or Whore (Dutchman and The Slave)

Lula is the emblematic temptress and destroyer. She is Eve, the downfall of Adam. She is Ishtar, Circe—goddesses of destruction and death. She lies, manipulates, and kills, all of which she carries out under the (initial) guise of seduction. Grace is not so much a seductress, but she is still a temptation to Walker. It is clear he still has some feelings for her, which contribute to the difficulties he faces. These two women are evil (Grace less so than Lula), and they are responsible for the male main characters' death or despair. While Jones intends Lula specifically to be more universal than just a specific woman, he still chooses to portray women in archetypal, offensive fashions.

Power of Art (Dutchman)

In Clay's monologue, he articulates a view that is close to Jones' own: that art is a powerful way to purge one's deepest emotions. Clay speaks of the anger of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, for example, and says that they wouldn't have needed to make music if they'd just killed some white people. Since they cannot really do that, they sing and they play. They channel their rage, despair, and cry for change into their art, just as Jones himself did as the founder of the Black Arts Movement.