By Hayley Billet
In Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones’s influential one-act play Dutchman, Clay, a twenty-year-old black man, meets Lula, a thirty-year-old white woman in a subway car, but not all is what it seems. What begins as an innocent flirtation soon turns deadly, as Lula berates Clay’s identity as a black man in America, and it is a truly haunting and chilling portrayal of what happens when a black man attempts to merge his black identity with his American identity. It is clear that Clay is not the first black man who has met his fate at the hands of Lula, and he will not be the last either. The play ends with Lula moving on to another unsuspecting black victim. Life in America is not easy for African American individuals, and Baraka clearly displays his own reservations and objections in Dutchman. Clay’s identity proves a prominent topic in the play as he finds that he is divided between his identity as a black man and his identity in a white-dominated American society.
Life in America is not easy for African American individuals, and Baraka clearly displays his own reservations and objections in Dutchman.
Dutchman introduces a character who struggles to juxtapose his identity as a black man with his identity as an American, which results in a penultimate separation of the two as Lula strips Clay of his American identity and Clay defends and takes pride in his black identity. Lula completely destroys the bridge between Clay’s black identity and American identity. She assumes the upper hand and philosophically berates Clay for being a black man trying to assimilate into American society, harboring her racist tendencies and intention to kill him. When Clay finally realizes Lula’s true intentions, it is far too late, as he is already dying. Though there are many different ways to interpret Dutchman, Clay’s divided identity and Lula’s attempt to further separate them is an important topic and one that cannot be ignored.
The term “double-consciousness” was coined by W. E. B. Du Bois and is used to describe the split identities he experienced as a black man trying to assimilate himself into American society (Du Bois 4). Du Bois writes, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (5). To connect this to Dutchman, Clay goes along with many of Lula’s verbal strikes against him, because he knows that white America does not see him and other black individuals as an equal. Instead, they see them as slaves, and something they can control. Du Bois also writes: “One over feels his two-ness, —an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (5). It is difficult for Clay to piece these two identities together, while Lula attempts to further separate the two from joining together to form Clay’s complete sense of self.
Clay’s identity proves a prominent topic in the play as he finds that he is divided between his identity as a black man and his identity in a white-dominated American society.
The play begins by describing an exchange between Clay and Lula. At first it seems that Lula treats him as if she does not care that he is black, but we later find out that it was for this reason that Lula started talking to Clay in the first place. She is standing outside of the subway car and spots Clay sitting inside. Baraka’s detailed description shows the audience Clay’s insecurities concerning American society straight away and the previous troubles he must have experienced trying to blend into society as a black man. Baraka lets his own opinions seep into the introduction.
The man looks idly up, until he sees a woman’s face staring at him through the window; when it realizes that the man has noticed the face, it begins very premeditatedly to smile. The man smiles too, for a moment, without a trace of self-consciousness. Almost an instinctive though undesirable response. (Jones 4)
Once Clay finds that Lula has disappeared, he relaxes, happy to be alone. This is evident in the stage direction: “He smiles then; more comfortably confident, hoping perhaps that his memory of this brief encounter will be pleasant” (Jones 4). Baraka implies in his final stage direction that Clay does not tend to remember white individuals in a particularly flattering light, emphasizing the difficulty he must have with finding his American identity and piecing it together with his identity as a black man.
Baraka’s detailed description shows the audience Clay’s insecurities concerning American society straight away and the previous troubles he must have experienced trying to blend into society as a black man.
Clay’s tense reaction may also be a result of the knowledge that a white woman is almost instantly seen as a threat to a black man due to their tendency to falsely accuse black men of things they did not do (such as rape) with the full knowledge that they will be believed, and the black man will suffer the consequences. This is referenced in Lula’s line “I lie a lot. [Smiling] It helps me control the world” (Jones 9). Werner Sollors writes, “It is essential, and very Barakian, that initially, the woman’s face takes visual possession of the man by staring at him” (118). Lula begins overpowering Clay before she even boards the subway car. Clay is under the impression that he will never see her again. Lula’s plan begins to take action, while Clay remains unaware of what is about to happen. Nevertheless, Clay hopes to remember his simple passing encounter with Lula as a friendly one. When Clay smiles back at Lula, he seems to lose his sense of who he is, wanting to appear friendly and polite. Baraka indicates that this is done instinctively. He also indicates that this response is undesirable, showing that Clay believes that his instinctive smile is an undesirable response (Jones 4). Clay relaxes when Lula leaves, finally able to be by himself and not judged by others. But this moment of relief is short-lived.
She reappears after their initial exchange of glances, of course, and begins a roller coaster of a conversation that gets increasingly uncomfortable and unusual. It is clear that Lula is not simply sitting next to Clay for the purpose of engaging in a meaningless conversation. Quite the opposite is happening with this chance encounter, she is targeting him as her next victim. Larry Neal writes that “Clay is doomed when he allows himself to participate in Lula’s “fantasy” in the first place” (34). Clay’s fate is already sealed when he allows Lula to sit next to him on the empty subway car. Sollors adds, “If Dutchman is a play about the “Fall of Man,” then the expulsion out of Eden is complete before the play starts” (121). Lula is not the only vicious and racist white woman to call out a black man for trying to assimilate into American culture, and she will not be the last. This racism and corruption of black assimilation in America has been present before the events of Dutchman. When Lula and Clay exchange glances, this is merely a continuation and representation of the difficulties of bridging one’s black identity with their desired American identity, and the violent separation between white and black people in America (121).
Clay’s fate is already sealed when he allows Lula to sit next to him on the empty subway car.
Dutchman does represent the fall of Clay at the hands of Lula. Lula repeatedly exposes Clay on his attempts to assimilate into American society and destroys the link between Clay’s black identity and his American identity. Lula is seen eating a lot of apples in the play, offering them to Clay as well. It is clear that the apples serve a purpose and deeper meaning to the play. It seems to be Lula’s way of getting acquainted with Clay and throwing him off the track of what her true intentions for him are. This is clear when she says, “Eating apples together is always the first step. Or walking up uninhabited Seventh Avenue in the twenties on weekends” (Jones 11). Christopher Baker elaborates on this idea “Lula’s offerings of an apple to Clay are clearly an image of Eve’s tempting Adam in the Garden of Eden” (111). Lula drives Clay into his greatest temptation, accepting her offers of an apple and listening to her as she unknowingly begins to strip him of his American identity.
Clay’s acceptance of this temptation seals his fate and gives Lula the upper hand and ability to kill him once he completely loses touch with his American identity and fully accepts and takes pride in his black identity, out of touch and resentful of American society. This allows Lula the opportunity to kill him. Baker adds to this: “The plot indeed records the tragic fall of an Adamic figure, but it likewise invokes the biblical image of the young man of Proverbs setting out on the path of life, confronted by temptations and obstacles that might thwart his progress or even prove fatal” (112). Indeed, the fall of Clay very much mirrors the fall of man after giving in to temptation. His American identity, which he has fought hard to discover and come to terms with, vanishes after he gives in to Lula’s advances, offering of apples, and claims that he is a “murderer” (Jones 21). Clay’s fall begins with the first exchange between him and Lula, because little does he know, this exchange was more than a simple glance and quick smile. Meeting Lula is the first sign of his fall and impending death.
Lula drives Clay into his greatest temptation, accepting her offers of an apple and listening to her as she unknowingly begins to strip him of his American identity.
The fall of Clay at the hands of Lula slowly continues as the play progresses. Lula engages Clay in a conversation that seems meaningless, but in reality, it foreshadows what is to come. Lula’s apple offering foreshadows Clay’s fall. Lula slips simple one-sentence comments into the conversation that show the audience she is not what she seems. She is not an everyday woman simply trying to get home on the subway. As her conversation with Clay progresses, it becomes evident that her intent is strip Clay of his American identity and force him into his black identity, allowing her to murder him as a black man and not an American. Lula continues to berate Clay’s attempts at assimilation many times throughout the play, forcing him to see himself as a defeated black man and nothing more. Lula distancing Clay from his American identity and chastising his black identity, harassing him to the point of feeling defeated, is clearly displayed near the end of scene I. This is also an example of Lula inserting a comment that shows she has devious ulterior motives.
LULA. May the people accept you as a ghost of the future. And love you, that you might not kill them when you can.
LULA. You’re a murderer, Clay, and you know it. (Jones 21)
She also confronts Clay about his double-consciousness, and tries to show him that a black man will never be respected or treated as fairly as the white community.
Here is a perfect example of Lula attacking Clay and denouncing his attempts to assimilate into American society. She also confronts Clay about his double-consciousness, and tries to show him that a black man will never be respected or treated as fairly as the white community. While viciously shutting down his desires to find his American identity, Lula further separates Clay from American society, never allowing him the same luxuries that she has as a white woman. Lula targets Clay simply because he is a black man and unleashes a harsh attack on his identity as an American, assuming her position as the dominate race. Clay begins to see himself through the eyes of Lula and stands up against this false representation of black men in America. Lula’s racist attitude becomes more and more clear as her conversation with Clay goes on. Her true intentions to act on Clay’s naivety and insecurities around the white community is evident during their conversation about Clay’s identity as a man.
LULA. Don’t think you’ll get out of your responsibility that way. It’s not cold at all. You Fascist! Into my dark living room. Where we’ll sit and talk endlessly, endlessly.
CLAY. About what?
LULA. About what? About your manhood, what do you think? What do you think we’ve been talking about all this time? (Jones 25)
By bringing up his role as a man, Lula’s goal to strip Clay of his American identity begins to intensify. Neal writes, “Symbolically, and in fact, the relationship between Clay (Black America) and Lula (white America) is rooted in the historical castration of black manhood” (34). Clay’s identity as an African American man comes into question many times throughout the play, but this line from Lula shifts the play and begins to instill the audience with a sense of uneasiness. Lula forces Clay to take ownership of his black identity, and as a result, his interactions with Lula cause his identity as an American to falter as well.
As her conversation with Clay progresses, it becomes evident that her intent is strip Clay of his American identity and force him into his black identity, allowing her to murder him as a black man and not an American.
The troubles Clay experiences with Lula and assimilation into American society mirrors the same experiences people were dealing with in reality. Baraka sought to represent his culture and display it on the stage, showing a side of America not many people get to see, let alone acknowledge. There was a lack of representation for the black arts, and Baraka was one of the poets who fought to change that.
Baraka was involved in the Black Arts Movement, which attempted to bridge black and white America together and bring attention to the black experience of surviving in a white- dominated society. Neal writes: “The Black Arts Movement eschews “protest” literature. It speaks directly to Black people” (30). Baraka and others wrote plays “… that shattered the illusions of the American body politic, and awakened Black people to the meaning of their lives” (32). Dutchman was one of these plays (32).
Dutchman brings attention to the fact that it was difficult for black men and women to find a new life and name for themselves in America. This was not Baraka’s intention, as Neal writes, “Jones’ particular power as a playwright does not rest solely on his revolutionary vision, but is instead derived from his deep lyricism and spiritual outlook” (36). Baraka’s creativity and need to represent himself and his culture are evident, but his desire to raise awareness and awaken his black culture is present as well (32). Similarly, Clay’s attack on the way white America treats him and the black community shows that he no longer will idly sit and watch Lula berate his culture. Sollors writes: “Clay’s address is often cited as the pumping Black heart of the New Black Aesthetic and of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, and hailed as an act of political liberation or deplored as a dangerous advocacy of violence” (126).
Lula continues to berate Clay’s attempts at assimilation many times throughout the play, forcing him to see himself as a defeated black man and nothing more.
No matter how much ground seemed to be made, Du Bois writes that the subject of one’s color has been a continuing problem for the twentieth century (12). He argues, “It was a phase of this problem that caused the Civil War; and however much they who marched South and North in 1861 may have fixed on the technical points of union and local autonomy as a shibboleth, all nevertheless knew, as we know, that the question of Negro slavery was the real cause of the conflict” (12-13). Du Bois’s discussion of Negro slavery can be related to Dutchman. Fittingly enough, the name Dutchman implies a relation to the Flying Dutchman myth and the slave trade. Baker writes of this connection “… its title alluding to the Dutch vessels that transported slaves to the New World and to the legend of the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship doomed to sail forever as retribution for the crimes of its crew (Cardullo; Nelson, 53-54) … For Baraka, a Manhattan subway car becomes the modern, subterranean slave ship of his unredemptive dramatic fable, the racial stresses of America summarized in the violent micro-politics of two strangers on a train” (110). Indeed, Lula repeats the topic of slavery many times to Clay throughout the play, one instance being, “What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit and striped tie? Your grandfather was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard” (Jones 18). Lula is attempting to further separate Clay from American society by reminding him of his black identity and the disdain and hate America feels for them, referring to Clay’s status as a slave.
CLAY. Oh? You know about them too?
LULA. Oh yeah. About them more than I know about you. Do they frighten you? CLAY. Frighten me? Why should they frighten me?
LULA. ‘Cause you’re an escaped nigger. CLAY. Yeah?
LULA. ‘Cause you crawled through the wire and made tracks to my side. (Jones 29)
This connection to the Flying Dutchman myth and slave trade is interesting. Sollors elaborates on this theory behind the title “Baraka’s view of the slave trade as an original sin, and of the legacy of slavery as a curse upon America, makes plausible the relationship of Dutchman to the Flying Dutchman” (131). It appears that Lula sees Clay as a “curse upon America”, and proceeds to do all that she can to take away any sense of American life he still holds on to (131). The topic of Clay as a slave is another one of Lula’s attempts to strip him of his American identity.
While viciously shutting down his desires to find his American identity, Lula further separates Clay from American society, never allowing him the same luxuries that she has as a white woman.
The location where Dutchman takes place provides insight into society as well. The subway represents much more than a simple way for people to travel. Baker writes: “Yet this is also “a modern myth,” a symbolic representation of contemporary black America as a noisy, endless commotion that whites would prefer to keep beneath their level of awareness” (117). It may be avoided by most whites, but it is a hunting ground for Lula. This “slave ship” subway car is located underground and ignored by most of white America, except Lula, who use this “ship” to her advantage, to terrorize and eliminate the black community one by one (110). In other words, the subway is her destination.
Lula uses her status as a white woman to her advantage. She can go almost anywhere she pleases, while Clay complies to America’s disapproval of him and submits to traveling below the day-to-day activity of American society, mirroring his status as beneath white America (Baker 117). When they first meet, we can see that Clay is more reserved and would prefer to keep to himself because of the society he is living in. This is in sharp contrast to Lula, who is more outgoing and flamboyant because she knows she will not be questioned for killing an innocent black man.
Clay and Lula represent two very different sides of a society’s struggle for racial power, equal and unequal. Lula overpowers Clay through her discussions of his manhood and identity as a black man. She repeatedly exposes and shames Clay for attempting to assimilate himself into American society. This constant power battle is mostly led by Lula, as she gains the upper hand over Clay as she brings up many topics that attempt to strip him of any trace of his American identity and ridicules his black identity, not to mention the fact that the other passengers on the subway car seem to take her side. Clay’s speech, given near the final pages of Dutchman, shows Clay’s assertion of his black identity. Instead of being beaten down by Lula’s harsh accusations and actions, Clay fights back. However, though he has come into his identity as a black man, his identity as an American is completely lost. Nita N. Kumar writes that this important speech “… begins to wrench away the middle-class fake-white-man facade and offer a glimpse into the tortured and conflicted psyche of a black man in America” (275). The people on the subway have not experienced America in quite the same way as Clay. In his speech, Clay’s double- consciousness begins to fade away, as he comes into his black identity, making it known just how difficult life in America is for him as a young black man.
The troubles Clay experiences with Lula and assimilation into American society mirrors the same experiences people were dealing with in reality.
This speech represents Clay foregoing his attempt at an American identity and defending and fully possessing his black identity. Baker adds that Clay’s desire to assimilate into American society has made him forget about his black community: “His choice to be what he calls “a middle class fake white man” (34) is the wrong choice even if it is his own. He is culpable for failing to see that his assimilationist desires have only led him away from his own heritage” (121-122). Clay’s speech acts as the turning point of the play, but Clay’s victory and sense of self-satisfaction is quickly shut down by Lula, who kills him once his speech is done after she calmly says “I’ve heard enough” (Jones 36). Kumar writes “… Baraka is here combating the forms of representation/perception that become forms of persecution by denying blackness any possibility of viable existence” (279). Once Clay is able to find his identity as a black man, he is killed because of the difficulty they experience when trying to assimilate in American society. Their attempts are repeatedly shut down and met with possible acts of violence. Baraka, knowing this, shows that if Clay cannot survive his liberation in the subway car, he certainly would not have survived presenting this liberation to the larger population of American society.
Lula’s actions do not make Clay’s speech any less powerful, however. He is finally able to fully acknowledge and be proud of his black identity, disregarding his American identity, which is what Lula wanted. By coming into his own by the end of the play, Neal writes, “But Lula understands, and she kills Clay first. In a perverse way it is Clay’s nascent knowledge of himself that threatens the existence of Lula’s idea of the world” (34). Lula finds her world threatened by the rise of Black America, and by killing Clay, she believes she is able to stop this from happening. This also reassures that Clay’s identity as a black man will never coincide with his identity as an American. Lula has managed to keep the upper hand over Clay throughout the entire play, even from the glance they share at the beginning. That however, changes during Clay’s speech. Kumar writes, “He gains the upper hand but decides not to kill Lula. She, however, calmly stabs Clay while other subway riders look on passively, which suggests their complicity” (275). Indeed, the passengers are mere bystanders to Clay’s downfall, and oblige when Lula orders them to throw his body off the train (Jones 37). The passengers could represent America’s tendency to overlook violence or death involving the black community. During Lula and Clay’s conversation, they show no interest in what they are talking about and only take part in Lula’s game when she tells them to, which could represent America’s tendency to get involved in black violence and racism only when prompted.
Baraka sought to represent his culture and display it on the stage, showing a side of America not many people get to see, let alone acknowledge.
Though the speech is given in vain, Clay brings attention to the subject matter that has been avoided by society. The touchy subject of racism and the negative treatment of black people is one that few people are willing to acknowledge, but Clay raises these questions with enough force to stop everyone in their tracks and let him finish his tirade. Andrzej Ceynowa writes: “But Clay’s “last-word-of-the-defendant” self-justification carries no weight. From the depths of emotional response there is not retreat into the haven of rationalism. Lula has him cornered, and she quite openly acts out her composite role as a prosecution, witness, judge, and jury” (17). Clay’s speech is not met with peace, it is met with more violence. Lula does indeed have him cornered, striped of his potential American identity, and backed into his black identity. After Clay has given his speech and spews his resentful opinions and warnings on Lula and the passengers on the subway car, he is murdered, and the passengers dispose of his body as if he never mattered.
Clay’s anger and frustration is revealed, and very much mirrors Baraka’s own frustrations with white America and his reason for starting The Black Arts Movement. Ceynowa writes that before his works gained proper recognition “… Baraka was perceived almost exclusively as an “angrier young man” or “a dangerous nuisance” spouting “loose demagogic utterances” who, living—or writing—up to his own words, sacrificed his art to propaganda” (15). Eventually Baraka did receive the critical praise he rightfully deserved. Ceynowa adds, “Only then did it become possible to balance the view of Baraka as a social and political activist writing drama with the view of Baraka as a dramatist striving for a form suitable to his needs” (15). It is definitely easy to parallel these views of Baraka by reading Dutchman and understanding Clay’s speech. Baraka the activist seeps through the speech, while Baraka the dramatist finding his way and writing in a way that he can understand comes into form as well (15). Clay is speaking the words but Baraka’s voice feels present as well. Ceynowa also writes: “Relatedly, Dutchman is viewed as a public exorcism in which Jones, about to become Baraka, casts out his old liberal self” (15). Indeed, Baraka’s aggression is clear throughout the play, most notably through Lula’s character and Clay’s final speech:
Let me be who I feel like being. Uncle Tom. Thomas. Whoever. It’s none of your business. You don’t know anything except what’s there for you to see. An act. Lies. Device. Not the pure heart, the pumping black heart. You don’t ever know that. And I sit here, in this buttoned-up suit, to keep myself from cutting all your throats. I mean wantonly. You great liberated whore! You fuck some black man, and right away you’re an expert on black people. What a lotta shit that is. (Jones 34)
There was a lack of representation for the black arts, and Baraka was one of the poets who fought to change that.
American society (at this point in time) only recognize black people as a threat to their way of life, when in reality, their hope is to one day live in a world where they are not rejected and discriminated because of the color of their skin. Society only sees them for their race and not what is underneath. That is the point Clay is making when he says, “An act. Lies. Device. Not the pure heart, the pumping black heart” (Jones 34). Clay also denounces Lula for pretending to be an expert on the black community simply because she has engaged in sexual activity with them. To understand their situation is to live it. This is a very real statement that can be connected back to Baraka.
Baraka’s own voice is reflected in that of Clay’s. Baraka himself experienced struggles with double-consciousness. He was a black man trying to blend into American society (Woodard 4-5). Komozi Woodard writes of Baraka’s early writing experience “In an era when black writers were criminally neglected by American publishers, the young Baraka decided to edit the masters of Beat poetry, producing some important volumes of poetry and cultural criticism that went against the tide of academic poetry” (5-6). Baraka challenged others to think and look at America through his perspective, and that is what Clay is bringing attention to in his speech. Once the shoe is on the other foot, white Americans will no longer see America the way they always have. Instead, they will see the side of American life they never wanted to see or acknowledge. Kumar writes, “In his plays, Baraka engages with the issue of racial dialectic at the level of identity construction and representation even as he attempts explicitly to align the power of art with the larger political and social agenda of the African American community” (273). Society and the violence he endured serves as a backdrop to Dutchman. Its influences on Baraka are apparent during Clay’s speech.
Clay and Lula represent two very different sides of a society’s struggle for racial power, equal and unequal.
Drawing back to Baraka’s own perspective, reflected through Clay’s character, Woodard adds, “For the young Baraka, equality did not necessarily mean sameness, assimilation, and Anglo-conformity, but rather creativity, distinctiveness, and self-realization. Thus, in 1963, he was discovering his voice as a Citizen-Poet” (7). Though Baraka was trying to blend in with American society, that did not stop him from making noise, finding success, and speaking up for his culture and their artistic abilities (5-7).
Similarly, Clay discovering his own voice mirrors that of Baraka. Baraka’s own struggles are represented in Dutchman as the audience watches as Clay struggles to blend into American culture. This attempt to assimilate is proven futile, as Lula continues to restrict Clay’s American identity until it has completely disappeared. Clay, realizing what Lula has done, takes pride in his black identity and lets that be known to everyone on the subway car, noting how different he is from each and every one of them.
Clay’s murder can very well represent the violence that Baraka had to endure during his life, instilling his audience with the same sense of hopelessness he himself had felt at certain points in time. Baraka was arrested during the Newark Rebellion in 1967, a gruesome event “… in which Baraka was nearly beaten to death by a group of white Newark police officers, then arrested for using poetry as a weapon” (Woodard 8). This “poetry as a weapon” and Baraka’s need to emphasize his experiences with white America are referenced in Dutchman (8). Baraka is utilizing art as a substitute for murder. The death of Clay represents the death of his poetry, art, and craft. The idea of his poetry being viewed as a weapon is paralleled in Clay’s death. It is not the death of a black man, but the death of poetry and the black culture and arts. Baraka saw the direction society was turning to and highlighted this at the end of Dutchman. By killing off Clay, not only does Baraka let Lula win and continue targeting black men in the underground subway, but he also hides a strong message that Clay’s speech is his weapon. It was his way of fighting back and standing up for what he feels is right. When he dies, so does his poetic speech and Baraka’s art. But Clay’s death is not the only aspect of the play that mirrors Baraka’s opinions and experiences.
The touchy subject of racism and the negative treatment of black people is one that few people are willing to acknowledge, but Clay raises these questions with enough force to stop everyone in their tracks and let him finish his tirade.
It is important to acknowledge the fact that while Baraka has inserted his own opinions and feelings into that of Clay, he has also reflected parts of himself into Lula as well. Sollors writes “Clay and Lula are not merely depersonalized, absurd, two-faced social symbols, but are also endowed with elements of their creator’s self. Like “64” and “46,” they represent different temporal aspects of an artistic consciousness which has divided itself into opposing forces” (123). If this is the case, then Clay represents Baraka’s black identity while Lula represents his American identity (one that shuts down his efforts to assimilate). Sollors adds to Lula’s place in Baraka’s consciousness, “She attacks Clay’s middle-class mask from the point of view of Bohemianism and thus represents a later stage of the writer’s development. Ten years older than Clay, she is perceptive to the point of omniscience” (124). Baraka has grown aware and wise to the fact that American society will never accept him as one of them. Baraka knows the society he has lived in and remembers the violence he has experienced during his own attempts to be accepted and assimilate into it. It is futile, as society has done everything it could to make sure his American identity will never coincide with his black identity. This is represented in Lula.
Clay finds his identity by condemning the way white people view the black community. He finds his black identity by defending it and criticizing the white community. This is shown when Clay says, “And the only thing that would cure the neurosis would be your murder. Simple as that. I mean if I murdered you, then other white people would begin to understand me. You understand? No. I guess not” (Jones 35). Clay knows that the white society will always view him as a threat no matter what he does. If he murders Lula, white people would understand him as a threat, not an equal, and the animosity would continue.
Baraka’s own struggles are represented in Dutchman as the audience watches as Clay struggles to blend into American culture.
Clay’s sense of double-consciousness shines through in his speech. He finds his black identity but finds himself further separated from his American identity, unable to find a cohesion between the two. Clay’s speech makes it clear that it is utterly useless for a black man to assimilate himself into American society. In order for the black community to be accepted by society, the white community will suffer. They will never live together as equals, as Clay warns that the white people will be murdered by the black community as revenge. Once the flesh falls away from the bones of the whites, they will not look any different from the blacks. When the guard of the white community is down, that is when they will be murdered. Though Clay discusses murder very clearly in his speech, an act of murder may not be what will actually kill the whites. Clay warns that they will be killed, but they themselves might not be killed, rather, he could be referring to their identities and spirits.
And then, maybe one day, you’ll find they actually do understand exactly what you are talking about, all these fantasy people. All these blues people. And on that day, as sure as shit, when you really believe you can “accept” them into your fold, as half-white trusties late of the subject peoples. With no more blues, except the very old ones, and not a watermelon in sight, the great missionary heart will have triumphed, and all of those ex- coons will be stand-up Western men, with eyes for clean hard useful lives, sober, pious and sane, and they’ll murder you. They’ll murder you, and have very rational explanations. Very much like your own. They’ll cut your throats, and drag you out to the edge of your cities so the flesh can fall away from your bones, in sanitary isolation. (Jones 36)
The ending presents a haunting message of violence and racism that seems to be trapped in a never-ending cycle.
American society takes a hit after Clay finishes his speech. Clay reassures Lula that they are not as different as society makes them out to be and warns her of an impending revolt. Sollors writes, “Before Clay’s speech, Lula represented aesthetic protest as a challenge to Clay’s middle-class mask; now, Clay symbolizes the surrealist-realist threat of Black nationalism to Lula as white America” (128). However, Lula gets her victory, ridding herself and others of Clay’s assertions of the future. Lula overpowers Clay many times throughout the play and seizes her moment to overpower him for the last time once his speech has ended. She has separated Clay from American society and his identity as an American and proceeds to finish the job she set out to do in the first place. Clay’s speech is a triumphant moment for him, a moment of victory. But Lula had other plans for him from the very beginning. She did not sit with him to pass the time. He was her target, and she moves on to her next target when she has the passengers dispose of Clay’s body.
Dutchman ends the way it began, with Lula going after another young black man, supposedly in the same manner in which she went after Clay. Sollors writes, “In the presence of other subway passengers, her attacks become harsher and more and more provocative; and when the Black man responds with a rhetorical tirade, he is stabbed to death by the aggressive white woman who, at the end of the play, prepares for her next victim, another young Black man” (118). Lula moves on to the next victim, solidifying her dark and vicious intentions. Kumar writes, “It is as if she has timed and controlled the entry of the next young Negro who walks into the coach, completely oblivious of the preceding action” (277). This adds an extra layer of wickedness to the play. It would make sense that Lula has planned out her attacks in time with the subway’s stops. After all, no one would pay much attention to a white woman traveling in the subway.
The ending presents a haunting message of violence and racism that seems to be trapped in a never-ending cycle. Baraka undoubtedly chose to end Dutchman this way to give audiences a lot to think about, not to mention give the audience something that will plague them and stay in their minds long after reading or viewing the play. Lula intends to initiate the fall of another man, as she did with Clay, and the audience can do nothing but sit and watch in horror as Lula makes her way to her next victim.
Dutchman undoubtedly represents the fall of Clay (and other black men) at the hands of Lula. During their roller coaster of a conversation, Lula strips Clay of his American identity and berates his black identity time and time again. Once Clay finally snaps back at her, in his electrifying speech, he has taken full pride and control of his black identity while at the same time losing his American identity, which is what Lula wanted. Lula continues on to her next victim as if Clay’s death never happened. There is no telling how many other black men she has killed before Clay, and how many men she will murder in the future.
Baraka undoubtedly chose to end Dutchman this way to give audiences a lot to think about, not to mention give the audience something that will plague them and stay in their minds long after reading or viewing the play.
The play provides audiences with a lot to think about. Kumar notes, “Dutchman is not a definitive statement on, or an embodiment of, “blackness,” but is rather an exploration of the various strategies of representation of black identity and the possibility of unraveling these” (274). Baraka has written a play that brings attention to the struggles he experienced while trying to blend himself into American society. Clay is finding his way in American society, his taking the subway, the “slave ship,” shows his uncertainty and insecurities concerning being a black man in American society (Baker 110). This is where Lula comes in, forcing Clay to fully come into his black identity and separate himself from his American identity so he can be killed with the identity of a black man and not a typical American.
Lula’s intent is far more devious than the audience could have ever predicted. In order for her to kill Clay, she must separate him from American society, and kill him as an innocent black man. The passengers represent society’s tendency to look the other way when a murder involving a black man takes place. When Clay dies, Baraka is showing that the poetry and art that he fought so hard to bring to everyone’s attention has died as well.
Baraka’s own opinions and frustrations shine through many aspects of the play, not only through Clay, but Lula as well. Baraka and Clay both struggle with double-consciousness. Both were black men attempting to navigate American society (Woodard 4-5). This was not an easy task, as evidenced through Dutchman and Baraka’s Black Arts Movement.
Deep underground, in the subway “slave ship,” more than a simple chance encounter was taking place. A murderous plan carried out by a devious woman was taking shape. Baraka illuminated Dutchman with the horrifying realization that the play echoes Baraka’s own experiences with violence and racism in America. Clay’s fate was sealed the moment he and Lula exchanged glances. Little did he know that this mystery woman was more diabolical and evil than any other person he has encountered in American society. Clay’s identity takes a hit as he attempts to preserve the identity he knows will not be taken from him, and condemns the identity that has.
Dutchman introduces character who struggles to juxtapose his identity as a black man with his identity as an American, which results in a penultimate separation of the two as Lula strips Clay of his American identity and Clay defends and takes pride in his black identity. Indeed, Clay has lost all touch with his American identity thanks to Lula. Lula has destroyed the bridge between Clay’s black identity and American identity. She repeatedly exposes and harasses Clay for trying to assimilate in American society, knowing that it is futile, and proves this point by killing him. These points have proved that Clay’s double-consciousness, as well as that of Baraka’s, is an important topic to discuss, and one of the many interpretations of the play that cannot be ignored.
Baker, Christopher. “A Trip with the Strange Woman: Amiri Baraka’s ‘Dutchman’ and the Book of Proverbs.” South Atlantic Review, vol. 78, no. 3/4, 2013, pp. 110–128. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43739218. Accessed 11 Nov. 2020.
Ceynowa, Andrzej. “The Dramatic Structure of Dutchman.” Black American Literature Forum, vol. 17, no. 1, 1983, pp. 15–18. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2904162. Accessed 29 Nov. 2020.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Vol. First Yale University Press edition, Yale University Press, 2015. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=nlebk&AN=1000450&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Jones, LeRoi. “Dutchman.” Dutchman and The Slave, Harper Perennial, 2001, pp. 3-38.
Kumar, Nita N. “The Logic of Retribution: Amiri Baraka’s ‘Dutchman.’” African American
Review, vol. 37, no. 2/3, Summer 2003, pp. 271–279. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/1512313.
Neal, Larry. “The Black Arts Movement.” The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 12, no. 4, 1968, pp.
28–39. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1144377. Accessed 22 Nov. 2020.
Sollors, Werner. Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a “Populist Modernism.” Columbia University Press, 1975.
Woodard, Komozi. “Amiri Baraka and the Music of Life.” Transition, no. 114, 2014, pp. 2–12.
JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/transition.114.2. Accessed 29 Nov. 2020.
Hayley Billet is a graduate student in the M.A. English program.