The Emperor Jones

The Emperor Jones Summary and Analysis of Part 2


Scene 2. At nightfall, we see Jones entering "the end of the plain where the Great Forest begins." O'Neill writes of the forest: "A somber monotone of wind lost in the leaves moans in the air. Yet this sound serves but to intensify the impression of the forest's relentless immobility, to form a background throwing into relief its brooding, implacable silence." At the edge of the forest, Jones throws himself onto the ground. He takes off his shoes, listening to the tom-toms in the distance.

Jones suddenly gets worried that the revolutionaries are coming after him. He begins "shaking himself like a wet dog to get rid of these depressing thoughts." He gets hungry and searches for foot, turning over a white stone, but finding no "grub" underneath.

He lights a match and looks around, perturbed that he cannot locate any food. Suddenly, he stamps out the match, realizing that if he creates light he will show his pursuers where he is hiding. "...what's dat tin box o' grub I had all wrapped up in oil cloth?" he asks himself.

Suddenly, Little Formless Fears, black shapeless beings with "glittering little eyes," begin to appear around Jones. As Jones looks up at the tops of the trees to try and understand where he is, he worries that he is completely lost, and the Formless Fears begin to laugh at him mockingly, "like a rustling of leaves." As they climb towards him, Jones jumps back, terrified, and fires his gun.

After the gun goes off, the distant tom-tom becomes more rapid, as though it is coming closer, and the Formless Fears scatter. Shooting the gun brings Jones some renewed confidence, and he runs into the forest, forcing himself to take the plunge.

Scene 3. At nine o'clock, the moon has risen and given the forest an "eerie glow." The tom-tom is a bit louder and quicker in this scene, There is also a clicking sound. A middle-aged black man in a Pullman porter's uniform, Jeff, enters and crouches on the ground, throwing two dice on the ground, almost mechanically.

Jones approaches, muttering to himself. His face is scratched and he has lost his Panama hat. He speaks to himself, reassuring himself about the fact that everything will be better when he gets out of the forest and gets his hand on the money he has. Suddenly, he hears the strange clicking sound, which he identifies as sounding like someone throwing dice.

He sees Jeff and gasps in horror. Then, he becomes relieved, thinking that perhaps the man he killed is actually alive. "Jeff! I'se sho' mighty glad to see you! Dey tol' me you done died from dat razor cut I gives you," he says, but Jeff just plays with the dice mechanically, without looking at him. When Jeff doesn't reply, Jones becomes angry, pulling out his revolver and shooting at Jeff. When the smoke of the gun clears, Jeff has disappeared. As the tom-tom gets louder, Jones runs off down the path.


O'Neill's stage directions are as much a character in the play as the people are. The landscape of the West Indies, in all its mystery and beauty, serves as both a peaceful and a terrifying backdrop for Jones' escape from his revolting subjects. O'Neill describes the landscape with a sober and poetic clarity, calling the forest's "relentless immobility" and its "brooding, implacable silence." This description puts the surroundings into stark relief within the plot of the play, and it stands in stark and indifferent relief to the scrambling escape of the emperor.

Left on his own, Jones is less able to uphold his hubris and confidence. Standing at the edge of the dark forest, he struggles to know how to both provide for himself and escape from capture. While he told Smithers that he was not afraid, boldly walking out the front door of his palace in order to show that he was not intimidated by the revolution taking place, he now finds himself completely alone and nervous about what will befall him. Stripped of his palace and his crown, Jones also loses a great deal of his confidence.

In this second scene, non-realistic and more expressionistic dramatic elements are introduced into the play. As Jones scrambles in the dark, he is visited by "Little Formless Fears." O'Neill describes them thus: "They are black, shapeless, only their glittering little eyes can be seen. If they have any describable form at all it is that of a grubworm about the size of a creeping child." Jones' fears become literal entities onstage, rather than simply internal emotional experiences. They are personified as characters in the onstage environment, which in turn projects Jones' fears and the suspense of his solitude out to the audience as well.

Not only do disembodied psychological states such as fear become embodied in this section of the play, but elements of the past begin to superimpose themselves on the present. At the beginning of Scene 3, before Jones has entered the forest, we see Jeff, a black American man in a Pullman porter's uniform—presumably the man that Jones was jailed for killing—playing dice in the middle of the forest, a ghost of Jones' past waiting for him on his journey. Jones' consciousness, the deeds that weigh heavy on his mind and which have led him to this definitive moment, come to haunt him, a literal dark forest of the things he would rather not face.

These mirages—breaks from theatrical realism—in which Jones' psychology and his memory find their way into the plastic world of the play, have actual consequence in the action of the play. Each time that Jones is faced with these hauntings, he ends up firing his gun and alerting his pursuers to his whereabouts, against his better judgment. It is as if his guilty conscience causes him to betray himself. The vision of Jeff, the man he killed, causes Jones to lose his cool and draw attention to himself, ensuring his own doom.