The Emperor Jones by Eugene O’Neill – College Literature Series #001


During my stay at community college I had to submit journal responses and essays for my literature classes; some stories I quite enjoyed, and I thought I should share some of my responses. So this is not only my first blog post, but it’s the first of the College Literature Series on Eugene 0’Neill’s drama, “The Emperor Jones”.


Dramatist and screenwriter Eugene O’Neill writes a magnificent play about a tyrannical king not only running from his angered citizens, but from the sins which plague his past in his most famous work The Emperor Jones. With the loud, continuous drumming of the rebels’ tom-tom sounding behind him, the Black emperor. Brutus Jones runs headlong into the dark forest. In this forest of wonder and fright, Jones repeatedly sees apparitions that haunt him; there’s Jeff, a dice throwing man who Jones murdered; a ghostly chain gang, slave auction, and a chanting witch doctor. By next morning the hunting party catch up to the lost and circling emperor, ending the chase.

After reading the play, one can appreciate O’Neill’s inspiration from the Greek tragedies, Freudian psychology, and the German impressionism he implemented “to reveal the hidden lives of characters, especially their intense desires, fears, and memories”(770). One particular symbol of such psychological distress is the presence, or lack thereof, Jones’s dress. Throughout the night in the forest, Jones continuously loses article after article of clothing until he’s reduced to wearing what resembles a loincloth. As the escaping emperor journeys further into the forest he descends into savagery and loses his sanity. The frantic Jones loses his mind after each confrontation of the ghastly hauntings; the images these hauntings portray though, are of slavery and death.

With that slavish imagery, O’Neil illustrates the haunting trials of African-Americans, center stage. O’Neill’s literary accomplishment and success therefore lie in his ability to spread messages echoed by other American poets and authors such as Langston Hughes and Olaudah Equiano.



Works Cited

Belasco, Susan, et al. “The Emperor Jones.” The Bedford Anthology of American Literature: 1865 to the Present, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Bedford/St. Martins, Boston, 2014, pp. 784–809.


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