Biography. • Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroi Jones in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. • He adopted the Muslim name Imamu Amear Baraka in 1967 which he then later changed to Amiri Baraka. • He has written over 40 pieces of works. This consists of plays, poems, essays, music history and criticisms. Some of which are: Blues People (1999), Somebody Blew up America (2004) and Transbluecency (1996). • He was largely influenced in life by Malcolm X and Richard Wright (author). • He studied at Rutgers University in 1951 • 1952 - He then went on to study at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. He did not obtain a degree at any of the universities mentioned. • In 1954 he went on to join the US Air force as a gunner and rank of Sargent. • During the same year, he moved to Greenwich Village and worked in a warehouse for music records. It was there where he discovered the Avant Garde beat generation and became highly interested in Jazz. • Baraka is a political activist and has lectured in Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and the USA regarding cultural and political issues. • Baraka is renowned as the founder of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s.
Synopsis. • The play takes place in “the flying under belly of the city”, a subway train in New York. • It focuses on two characters Lula, a white woman in her thirties, and Clay, a black man in his twenties. • Lula boards the train accusing Clay of staring at her. • Lula is an outgoing, forceful, flirtatious woman who tries to seduce Clay. As Lula says: “that’s why I came looking through the window...so you’d have more to go on. I even smiled at you”. pg.7 • Lula claims to know all about Clay and his life and heritage but he has no recollection of who she is. • Clay finally reacts to Lula’s racist comments in a monologue. • Clay suggests that whites let black people dance "black" dances and make "black" music. He explains that these segregatory actions soften black Americans' anger towards whites and distracts them from accessing the "white man's intellectual legacy.” • Clay says that if he were to take Lula’s words to heart, he should just kill all the white people he meets. • Although Clay says all this, he deeply rejects this plan of action. He states that he does not want to kill and that he prefers to be ignorant of the problem. He says he would rather choose to pretend to be ignorant of racism and not try to get rid of it by fighting with whites. • Lula kills Clay and the passengers on the train help to throw Clays body off of it and vacate the train. • The play ends as it began. Lula alone on the train and preying on another Black man. The end implies that this is a cycle.
Historical Context. • 1955- Montogmery Bus Boycott • 1956- Bombing of Martin Luther Kings house • 1960- Four black college students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina stage a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth lunch counter, protesting their denial of service. • 1962 - Three thousand troops quell riots, allowing James Meredith to enter the University of Mississippi as the first black student under guard by Federal marshals. • 1963- Birmingham, Alabama campaign • 1963- The Civil Rights march on Washington, D.C. for Jobs and Freedom culminates with Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Over 200,000 people participated in the march • 1964- Civil Rights Act ended segregation in public facilities and racial discrimination in employment and education.
Dramatic Context. • This play is seen as an Allegorical play: • Allegory: A device in which characters or events represent or symbolise ideas and concepts. Allegory messages are communicated by means of symbolic figures, actions, objects and symbolic representation, which is seen as an extended metaphor. • A good example of this is Plato’s theory of forms. Plato describes a group of people who have lived chained to a wall of a cave all of their lives, facing nothing, watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato's Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. This relates to Dutchman because of Lula’s inability to come to terms with change, reality and an understanding of society. She is only used to what she’s been exposed to and her ignorance is apparent. • Baraka makes psychological and social observations about the essential nature of the black man’s existence in America. The allegory is expressed in the Dutchman symbolically and dramatically through the relationships between black and white people and the ‘patterns of American life’. • The riders of the subway symbolise a racist society, and the subway journey can be seen as a metaphor to the inevitable death of Clay. Julien.C. Rice states that Dutchman is heavily influenced by the myth ‘The Flying Dutchman.’ A dutchman in a mythical sense is a killer whose duties include disposing of corpses. In regards to the play, the civilian disposing of Clay’s body at the end is the Dutchman, however you can interpret the fellow riders of the subway to be seen as a ‘collective’ Dutchman. • Baraka takes the idea of Allegory and makes complex use of the Dutchman’s theme in converting it in to a modern myth. The first stage direction states that: “ In the flying underbelly of the city. Steaming hot and summer on top, outside. Underground. The subway heaped in a modern myth.” This stage direction is structured in a poetic way, and even emphasises the word ‘myth’
Symbolic Themes. • The symbolic qualities are also shown through Lula’s props. • Paper books: Symbolises the written culture of the white man - access to education etc • Sunglasses: The constant moving and removing of her sunglasses. acts as a disguise of friendship, which Lula dips in and out of and entirely at the end. • Apples: The traditional symbol of temptation. Lula tries to seduce Clay, by tempting him with apples.
In relation to other plays. • A streetcar named desire:- Blanche and Lula both represent ‘the mad woman in the attic’. They are both mentally, unstable characters who lie to gain control and make life appear as it should be rather than how it is. • The Verge- The greenhouse represents a prison for Harry and Dick and the subway represents a prison for Clay. Claire has control over Dick and Harry similar to Lula having control over Clay. • Our Town- Wilder uses a minimal set and real life daily activities such as eating breakfast to portray the reality of life which is similar to Dutchman for example, riding the subway.