The Emperor Jones Themes

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The Emperor Jones examines race and racism on a number of levels. Most simply, it calls attention to the racial oppression that actually existed in America in 1920. In Scene I, Smithers expresses skepticism over Jones's claim that he killed a white man before coming to the island: "from what I've 'eard, it ain't 'ealthy for a black to kill a white man in the States. They burn 'em in oil, don't they?" And though Smithers is an Englishman, he clearly represents racist attitudes that were present in O'Neill's contemporary society. At times Smithers reveals his racism somewhat subtly, as in the opening moments of the play when he assumes that the peasant woman sneaking through the throne room must have been "stealin' a bit." At other times, Smithers is much less subtle, as when he delivers the vicious curtain line at the end of the play...

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This section contains 1,235 words
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Drama for Students
The Emperor Jones from Drama for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.