"The Dutchman" by Leroi Jones (he now goes by the
name Amiri Baraka) is a short and surprising one-act play that stresses
to bring racism and prejudice to the forefront of the audience's mind,
and succeeds with perhaps flying colors.
The action of the play takes place on a
New York City subway between a young black man, Clay, and a flirtatious
white woman, Lula. The play focuses on the racial and sexual tension
between the two, catapulting back and forth from various extremes and
The two main characters send verbal barrages back
and forth between them. Lulu especially criticizes Clay for being an
"accomodationist" wearing the clothes and having the education of
wealthy white men. Some critics see this as the voice of the Black
Nationalist Baraka and his disdain for these so called
accomodationists. Lulu finally manages to drive Clay into a fit of rage
in which he delivers a blistering, angry monologue. Lulu has finally
heard what she wanted to hear, and she promptly stabs Clay to death.
The play ends as Lulu is measuring her next young black victim.
The title is taken from the myth of "The Flying Dutchman", as if Lulu is doomed to sail forever.
"The Dutchman" gave birth to a new rise in African
American literature, often known as the Black Arts Movement. The play
seemed to open the doors for many new African American writers and
playwrights, and they took full advantage of the opportunity.
"The Dutchman" opened on Broadway in 1964, and
surprisingly enough won an Obie award. It was later converted into a
film in 1966, and with other plays cemented Baraka's place in
theater and literature. After the publishing of the play Jones
converted to Islam and changed his name to Amiri Baraka in order to
leave behind his "slave name".
His work in the 1960's became progressively more
radical until Baraka left behind Black Nationalism in favor of Marxism,
which would define some of his later works. The lasting impact of "The
Dutchman", however, cannot be denied.