Brecht Jones And Artaud Essay Research Paper

Brecht Jones And Artaud Essay, Research Paper

In LeRoi Jones’s play, “Dutchman,” elements of realism, naturalism and

non-realism abound. The play features characters such as Clay, a

twenty-year-old Negro, Lula, a thirty-year-old white woman, both white

and black passengers on a subway coach, a young Negro and a conductor.

All of these characters take a ride that, for each, ends with different

destinations and leaves the audience to sort through the details and

find conclusions themselves. In this play, Jones uses realistic,

naturalistic and non-realistic elements to convey social issues such as

racism in the author’s own disillusioned style. Jones’s portrayal is

supported with the influences of Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud,

whose own disillusionment enhanced their works and greatly diversified

theatrical conventions. “Dutchman” is a play that should be talked

about by its audience so they can take part cleanse themselves of the

issues within, therefore, as many conclusions can be drawn by the

individu! als exposed in this play as there are numbers of people that

have seen or read it.

Realism and naturalism arose out of a world which was

increasingly becoming scientifically advanced. Airplanes,

railroads, automobiles, steamboats and communication advances

such as television, radio, the telephone and the telegraph

increased the speed and the amount of information that human

beings can send. Realism and naturalism ” . . . arose in part

as responses to those new social and philosophical conditions

(Cameron and Gillespie, pg. 335).” Following in a realistic

style, Jones sets his play in contemporary times and in a contemporary

place- the subway. Jones sets the scene with a man sitting in a subway

seat while holding a magazine. Dim and flickering lights and darkness

whistle by against the glass window to his right. These aesthetic

adornments give the illusion of speed associated with subway travel.

Realists believed that the most effective purpose of art was to improve

humanity by portraying contemporary life and its problems in realistic

settings. Jones depicts racism and murder in a modern setting to

remind us that racism and racially motivated murders are not issues

only relegated to our nation’s past, nor is the issue of

institutionalized racism.

Jones also used non-realistic elements in his play and was

probably influenced by Bertolt Brecht in doing so. Brecht once

wrote that ” . . . to think, or write or produce a play also

means to transform society, to transform the state, to subject

ideologies to close scrutiny (Goosens, 1997).” Jones was

influenced by Brecht by producing a play in a revolutionary

poetic style which scrutinizes ideologies of race. Jones also

modeled Brecht’s style of character development, creating

^verfremdung’ (estrangement). Brecht reasoned that ” . . . man

is such and such because circumstances are such (Goosens,

1997).” This effect explains the murder of Clay resulting from

a society that has perpetuated institutionalized racism and

segregation as historically acceptable. Brecht’s aspiration

was to provoke an audience into reforming society and to leave

an audience with the need to take action against a social

problem in order to complete an emotional cleansing coined,

^Theatre of Alie! nation.” Jones undoubtedly has the same

goal in mind while creating “The Dutchman.”

Antonin Artaud also had an influence on the theatre, and

possibly on Jones. “Artaud advocated a total spectacle with

lights, violent gestures and noise in place of music (Barber,

1990).” Artaud’s style for theatre and cinema, envisioned as

Theatre of Cruelty, shattered representations of spoken

language and carefully orchestrated theatrical action. Artaud

directed his fury against a society which was in a state of

constant confrontation by favoring controlled writing against

dream imagery. Jones’s use of dialogue where nothing is what

is seems unless spoken by Clay is an example of Artaud’s style

of fury. Lula exemplifies this also through her dialogue with

its slippery candor which eventually causes Clay to respond

candidly with a fury of his own. This fury expresses more

truth about the minds of black America in a nutshell than

countless books on U.S. interracial relations have portrayed.

The play nears its conclusion as Lula violently kills Clay with

wild and raw ob! literation, ending this carefully

orchestrated plot. The use of realistic and naturalistic elements as

well as non-realistic elements makes LeRoi Jones’ play, “Dutchman,” a

hybrid. The realistic elements include the setting (a subway coach

racing along through the subterranean world of lights and busy

stations). The characters, Clay and Lula, are real people with real

histories and real agendas facing a real issue- racism. The

non-realistic elements which predominate in “Dutchman” include Brecht’s

verfremdung and the element of Theatre of Alienation, as well as

Artaud’s racy dialogue and violent gestures elemental in his Theatres

of Cruelty. Because “Dutchman” is a hybrid, it deserves a new

categorization that represents Jones’s style. A term that can describe

this style is “Theatre of Illumination.” The Theatre of Illumination

sheds light on each individual’s unconscious reasoning which forces the

audience to reveal its own consciousness. When this happens, the

audien! ce can be ready to challenge their own judgements in a

constructive way. On the surface, there can always be supported

reasoning found for any prejudice or preconceived notion, but the

Theatre of Illumination transcends the surface preoccupations of

reasoning and dissolves the mists that shroud everyone’s apparent

opinions and renders humanity naked, infantile and in our primordial

state of seeking love and acceptance. In this state, we search for

anyone who will unconditionally love us, and accept them for that. The

Theatre of Illumination awakens our hearts with yearning, sobbing and

human repentance as we realize the wrongs that are possible, and also

realize how useless those wrongs actually are.


Barber, Stephen. “Antonin Artaud.” 1990.

Cameron, Kenneth and Gillespie, Patti. Enjoyment of Theatre. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, 4th ed. 1996.

Goosens, Shay. “Bertolt Brecht: A Theatrical Genius.” 1997.

Jones, LeRoi. Dutchman. William and Morrow, New York, New York. 1964.


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