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The Dutchman A Reflection of Social Oppression Hinged on Cultural Flaws


TheDutchman: A Reflection of Social Oppression Hinged on Cultural Flaws

Worldhistory can be simply described in two major events: oppression andthe struggles associated with it. In almost all civilizations, acertain group of people has endured torment and discrimination fromanother class of people. This is not only limited to the era ofcolonization which is remembered all too well by people of everynationality.

Oppressionand discrimination do not sound as simple as they appear. These twoevents can be considered as calamities that had mercilessly took awaylives of many, both in its literal and figurative meanings. Manylaws, treaties and regulations had been formulated in order toaddress these problems. However, it appears that although the problemhad been ever present since time immemorial, the problem appears tobe one which still calls for attention because every generation seemsto be plagued with this epidemic.

Oppressionand discrimination and the struggles that come with them shape thehistory of humanity that is why the subject had been a rich topic forliterature because it reflects both culture and history. This isperhaps why The Dutchman is a celebrated piece of literature thatcontinues to describe the deepest sentiments of an oppressed class ofpeople who appear to be trapped in a society that seems tocontinually favor the oppressors and subjugate the helplessoppressed. Itis argued in this essay that it is due to this existing oppressionwhich results from twisted culture, in our supposed to be civilizedworld of rational people that makes reason problematic that is, thepresent and past events in human history and their results contradictthe results of proper reasoning.

Plotand Character Profiles

Theplay is a very simple one in terms of its characters. There are onlytwo people in the entire play who became the media of the story’smessage. One of them is Clay, who is a male African American and theother is Lula, a white female.

Claywas portrayed to be an intellectual young African American who wastrapped in a situation where his deepest insecurities were unraveled.He was quiet and he tried to maintain a personal dignity by mostlybeing reserved and contained. In the dialogues, although he triedhard to catch up with the advances of Lula, who was entirely hisopposite because the latter was provocative and careless in both herwords and actions. Clay was likewise trying to appear polite, eventhough he was placed in very awkward situations a lot of times duringthe course of their conversations. He might appear gullible becauseof his easy accession to the rather impolite and improper advances ofLula but he was able to catch himself up at the end when he finallydelivered a monologue on how he thought about all satirical commentsand actions of Lula towards her. Clay was likewise portrayed as apassive young man, who was governed by reason and worked well oncontrolling his passions and appetites.

Onthe other hand, Lula was exactly every bit the opposite of Clay. Shewas female and she was white. She was also provocative and rathercareless. Her attempt to get Clay’s attention by saying that it wasClay who seemed interested in her showed her self-centeredness. Sheloved getting attention and seemed to be a person who would not takeany blame on her actions. Unlike Clay who was caught up in reading,hence, a person who relies on scholarly materials for bothinformation and entertainment, Lula was exactly the opposite. Luladrew assumptions and conclusions based on what was commonly knownaround, without bothering herself with more reliable sources.


TheDutchman is a captivating single-act play that had immortalized thename of its author, Amiri Baraka. The drama is consisted of anintense confrontation between two characters, Clay and Lula who wereon board a train. The play opens rather playfully with its lines butrapidly, suspense builds up between the characters which reflects arich and symbolic exchange not just of lines, but of ideals as well.The setting was in the New York subway train and opens with adescription on Clay as an intellectual, properly-groomed AfricanAmerican young man who was going through a magazine. He was theninterrupted by Lula, a beautiful white yet flirtatious woman olderthan him. As the Lula seduces Clay by slicing and eating an apple,the two engaged into teasing one another. However, the rather playfulatmosphere translated into a more personal exchange of chargedstatements which pointed back to issues of race and discrimination.Lula was too careful in not giving details about her personal lifeand identity yet she was able to take control of the situation andtheir conversation as she deliberately provoked Clay’s image as amiddle-class. Her approach was evidently cruel and insensitive as canbe implied from her question “What right do you have to be wearinga three-button suit and striped tie?” followed by the remark “Yourgrandfather was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard” (citation).These lines were evidently made to provoke Clay and unravelinsecurities he tried to hide.

Thedeeply hidden insecurities of Clay about his social status, race andmasculine prowess began to be unearthed as his responses to Lulaturned from manliness to defensiveness which then was trampled uponby Lula as soon as they became apparent. Ultimately, Lula’sobjective of dragging Clay towards seeing himself as Lula seeshim—only either a typical sex maniac or a recoiling Uncle Tomresulted to Clay’s plunge into a bitter tirade with Lula. Clay thentold Lula that the culture of African Americans as seen in Blackmusic genres, are in truth repressions of rage that kept them frombreaking down because of the longs years of oppression they hadendures, even for centuries. While Clay tried to prove this point toLula, it appeared that he was as well trying to prove the same tohimself. In his expressions, he was apparently unsure whether it wasthe repression or the rage that resulted thereafter which took aheavier toll on their sanity. This scene then intensifies until Lula,surprisingly stabs Clay in the chest.

Cultureof Oppression and Discrimination

Theplay is a reflection on the continuity of the cycle of oppression andrevolution and the hopelessness of all measures to eliminatediscrimination because of the defective cultures of both theoppressors and the oppressed. It is these defects which makes reasonproblematic – it is these which foster results which defy properand sound reasoning.

Inthe story, it is helpful to know the context wherein the play waswritten in order to understand the cultural setting which Barakawishes to address. In a book written by Bois, a closer look on howthe innermost emotions of black people had been as they, as a raceseemed to be destined to endure a series of oppression, whichoppression seemed to go on until the next generations. Theiroppression was likened unto the oppression of the Israelites of oldwho had to endure long years of slavery before seeing the PromisedLand. Emancipation was the only key to true happiness as it was “thekey to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched beforethe eyes of wearied Israelites” [CITATION WEB14 p 10 l 1033 ].Theplay was a modern allegory of the same oppression as the ancientchosen people. Their oppression and hardship were founded on unjustand inhumane bases and their suffering seemed to be traditional forthe oppressors.

AlthoughClay, in the story tried so hard to cover up all the insecuritiesinside of him by appearing indifferent and dignified before theprovocation began, was nevertheless unable to contain the truelonging for equality that had been mostly imagined than real. Suchdeep-seated emotions of African Americans, are embodied through wordsby Bois as follows:

Freedom,too, the long-sought, we still seek,–the freedom of life and limb,the freedom to work and think, the freedom to love and aspire. Work,culture, liberty,–all these we need, not singly but together, notsuccessively but together, each growing and aiding each, and allstriving toward that vaster ideal of human brotherhood, gainedthrough the unifying ideal of Race the ideal of fostering anddeveloping the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition toor contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to thegreater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day onAmerican soil two world-races may give each to each to thosecharacteristics both so sadly lack (14).

Thedeeply seated emotions inside the oppressed class such as the AfricanAmerican had been portrayed in the play as one which follows aseemingly unending cycle of curse. As reflected by the title whichrefers the myth of the Flying Dutchman, both stories reflectedeternal doom, with only a little glimmer of hope for deliverance. Themyth on The Flying Dutchman tells of a story about a ghost ship thatwas “doomed to wander forever on the seas” because the captainincurred the wrath of the gods [CITATION Joa06 p 193 l 1033 ].

Theplay touched on the subject of African American music as a way ofpeople’s expression to vent out their emotions against theinjustices done to them by the discriminating society. Bebop, amusical genre that characterizes African American music is onecultural media that translates such feelings into expression usingart. Because of the deep emotional roots of the said musical genre,it has been said that the “social and musical implications of bebopwere extremely profound, and it was only natural that there should beequally profound reactions” (Jones 202).

Atfirst glance, the play seems to be one that advocates only the sideof the oppressed, who were mercilessly thrown into pits of self-pity.However, the contrary may be argued because both cultures areactually flawed and both contribute to the injustice that had beencarried for generations between them. As Jones and Baraka had pointedout, the revolutionary theatre necessarily preaches “virtue andfeeling, and a natural sense of the self in the world. All men livein the world, and the world ought to be a place for them to live”[CITATION LeR65 p 2 l 1033 ].Inthese lines, virtue and feeling are both the keys to solving theproblem. And an awareness of this should not only be borne by one ofthe parties, instead, all spectators must see the entire picture inorder to understand the true evil of oppression and how it can beproperly cured.

Thesetting used in the entire play, which is the subway was a mediumused in order to portray a mobile yet stable picture of events. Asalso used in Ralph Ellison’s play entitled The Invisible Man, thesubway was a mirror across different locations, hence making theassumptions in the story true not only for certain parts of thecountry but throughout the region. In the said play by Ellisson, thenarrator stepped out of the train which symbolized stepping out ofhistory [CITATION Ell10 p &quot 383&quot l 1033 ].As the contrary had been portrayed in the play, the Dutchman ratherchose to bringto light the sad reality that in the issue of discrimination andoppression, no one is able to step out of history and both aretrapped inside the couches that promises no deliverance for bothgroups.

Theplay has two themes. The first is “dehumanizing sexuality, in anyform, leads to death” and the second is “psychic paralysis leadsto annihilation” [ CITATION Kat14 l 1033 ].Boththese themes reflect the tragedy of the story, which is anchored onoppression and discrimination. Although Lula appeared to be incontrol of the situation, Clay was nevertheless free to ignore her.However, the trap that Lula had set for him was one that was almostirresistible and in the end, she was able to survive.


Theplay tells of a cycle of history where both the oppressed and theoppressor are trapped in a system of cultural stereotyping. Both arenot left with other choices because they are not unwillingly insidethe train. Instead, they freely boarded it and they could have leftshould they desire to. However, both tried to prove something byusing expressions that fanned each other’s hostile emotions. Thiscycle goes on and on like a curse similar to that of the FlyingDutchman until they learn to sacrifice for each other and lay asidethe flawed culture both of them have, which impedes any opportunityfor true harmony and reconciliation – twisted culture makes reasonproblematic.


Bois, W. E. B. Du. The Souls of Black Folk. Hazleton, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University, 2006-2014. Web.

Ellison, Ralph. The Invisible Man. United States: Random House, LLC, 2010. Print.

Garner, Joan. Wings of Fancy: Using Readers Theatre to Study Fantasy Genre. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. Print.

Jones, LeRoi and Amiri Baraka. &quotThe Revolutionary Theatre.&quot July 1965. National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox. Web. 28 April 2014.

Jones, LeRoi. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Perennial, 2002. Print.

Mills, Kathleen. &quotAmiri Baraka and the Dutchman.&quot n.d. University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Web. 28 April 2014.