The Emperor Jones

The Emperor Jones Literary Elements



Setting and Context

An unnamed island in the West Indies

Narrator and Point of View

No narrator. Much of the play shows the psychic perspective of Brutus Jones, but not the whole play.

Tone and Mood

Expressionistic, Haunting, Scary, Dramatic, Epic

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Brutus Jones. Antagonist: Lem

Major Conflict

The major conflict is that Brutus Jones, the autocrat of a small island community, must escape the revolution taking place on his island by navigating a dark forest in the middle of the night, contending with hallucinations and doubts along the way.


The climax occurs when Jones gets killed.


The scarlet throne that we see at the beginning foreshadows the bloody consequences of Jones' rule.


Jones often understates the stakes of his plight, choosing to muster false confidence in the face of danger.


Allusions to colonialism, native customs, spiritual practices.


The image of the forest is an evocative one that is often poetically expressed by Eugene O'Neill.


Jones tells the natives that he can only be killed by a silver bullet as a way of making sure no one kills him, but the revolutionaries create a number of silver bullets themselves.


The first and the last scenes are the only scenes with multiple characters in it. The play is essentially bookended by realist scenes.

Metonymy and Synecdoche


Jones' formless fears are personified, and his various traumatic memories are personified through staged hallucinations.