Dutchman Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: Drama)

Amiri Baraka

Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Dutchman earned for Baraka an Obie Award as the best Off-Broadway play of 1964 and won for him a national reputation as a leading black dramatist. It continues to be Baraka’s most frequently discussed work. The play is a product of Baraka’s prerevolutionary period, a period in which he also wrote The Slave (pr., pb. 1964), The Baptism (pr. 1964), and The Toilet (pr. 1964) under the name LeRoi Jones. The importance of Dutchman to Baraka’s career is obvious, but the author himself consciously ignores or disparages the play. For example, he excludes any mention of it in the summary of his work that introduces the collection The Motion of History and Other Plays (1978).

Dutchman is an angry play that addresses American racial and sexual stereotypes, but it is not as consciously a black nationalist call to action as is the work Baraka produced after 1965. Many of the plays that Baraka wrote during the decade following the publication of Dutchman have been dismissed by critics as ephemeral agitation-propaganda pieces. All of them address the issues of race in America in a more directly didactic manner than Dutchman.

After 1975, Baraka committed himself to scientific socialism, and this political commitment is displayed in plays such as The Motion of History (pr. 1977) and S-1 (pr. 1976). In these plays Baraka’s ongoing discussion of oppression in America relies less on a direct depiction of violence than on an intellectual discussion of socialist theories of history. Instead of providing readers with a violent catharsis, this drama has been dedicated to the Brechtian idea of theater as political education.