Amiri Baraka's play, Dutchman, is a deeply powerful one act which reflects the racial and societal tensions of the 1960's in the setting of a moving subway car. The interaction between the two main characters, Lula a sinister, white woman and Clay an African American intellectual, illustrates the overarching oppression of white, patriarchal society. Lula is a characterization of misconceptions, racism and an unwillingness to accept the black community as truly equal. Her only attempts to relate to Clay intimately are centered on conversations concerning his “manhood” and his supposed attraction to her which she continually inflates. She assumes the worst of Clay and does so in a way that is insulting and bigoted especially with concern to him being any sort of a financially or intellectually successful figure. She refuses to grant him praise and berates all signs his success, as it symbolizes African American progress – something which she finds humorous and unrealistic. The brief dialogue between Clay and Lula signifies white oppression of African Americans at large and the pent up anger, hatred, and insanity as a result of such subjugation. Clay's diatribe in the end of the play shows his unwillingness to surrender quietly to Lula's jaded notions of white superiority.
[...] Baraka referencing Baudelaire may be in response to Baudelaire's 1860 book, Artificial Paradises, which, in the context of Dutchman, may symbolize 1960's society as a place of revolutionary ideals and movements of equality that gave fuel to the fight against racism but whose results indeed fell short of a racial utopia. Additionally, it seems as though Lula serves as a reminder of this phony paradise with her steady apple eating, an allusion to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Lula operates as a temptress, offering a strange and seemingly sympathetic ear to the struggle against racism yet, as we soon discover, her outspoken ‘liberalism' is merely an illusion, as is a society free of prejudice. [...]
[...] The title of the play echoes reference to the seafaring myth of the Flying Dutchman, a ship whose crew is sentenced to roam the seas for eternity. Baraka's first description of the subway is an “underground heaped in modern emerging the reader into the play's pervasive theme of misconception and deceit all is not what it appears. The New York City subway is a doomed carrier of lost souls just like the ship. Clay is ill fated from the moment he meets eyes with the exuberant but dreadful, white Lula. [...]
[...] Within the first few words to one another, Lula accuses Clay of “staring though that window down in the vicinity of [her] ass and legs.” She seems thrilled by the idea of Clay objectifying her as a piece of meat. She asserts that Clay has nothing better to do on a train than to [his] mind over people's flesh,” in an attempt to relate to the visceral side of him. Lula even goes as far as to suggest Clay has attempted incest, tried to make it with your sister when you were insinuating yet again that he is a sexually corrupted being. [...]
[...] Lula's subversion of Clay occurs in the context of sex as described above but also arises within the sphere of both material and intellectual progress of African Americans. Lula mocks Clay's suit questioning “what right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit and striped as if it were absurd that a black man would ever be in the position to need to wear a suit. (18). In addition, Lula regards Clay's intellect as a source of ridicule throughout the play. [...]
[...] Clay has passively assumed the principles of the underground throughout the play and not until his speech at the end does he actively embrace the idea. Clay speaks of the underground in reference to the blues by calling upon the name of Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker. He tells his bewildered audience of the dissident nature of blues that, “they say love Bessie Smith.' And don't even understand that Bessie Smith is saying, ‘Kiss my ass, kiss my black unruly ass.' Before love, suffering, desire, anything you can explain, she's saying, and very plainly, ‘Kiss my black ass.'” 35). [...]
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