Brutus Jones is the Emperor on a remote Caribbean island. He is a self-styled dictator, crowned ruler only because he manages to convince the trusting natives that he is a magician of sorts. Boasting that he can only be killed by a silver bullet, Brutus plays the part of the invincible strongman to perfection.
On the island, he forgets the heinous treatment he unleashed on his past victims and proceeds to oppress those who now hold him in high esteem. Brutus dresses himself in a flamboyant, military-style uniform and carries a revolver in his holster at all times. Aware that he has taxed and cheated the natives beyond all decency, Brutus cynically carries on his person a silver bullet; he aims to use it in the event of a rebellion.
His inhumanity is apparent when he mocks the natives while conversing with his sidekick, Henry Smithers. Brutus shows no remorse for causing the people to suffer; instead, he laughs at them for their gullible trust in him. He openly boasts that, once he gets wind of a mutiny, he aims to escape with all the money he's exacted from his victims. He also threatens Smithers with physical harm if his sidekick ever reveals his dastardly plans to anyone.
In due time, Smithers gets wind of a revolution in the making when he discovers that the horses have been stolen. He warns Brutus, and the latter loses no time in making his way through the big forest. Brutus's psychological evolution from inhumanity to humanity is apparent as he journeys towards the coast. At each succeeding interval, he is accosted by ghosts from his past, and these apparitions destabilize him emotionally and psychologically.
Despite his bravado, his mounting fear eventually causes him to lose all his composure. Surreal visions of horror descend mercilessly upon Brutus, and he is left questioning his sanity. He sees the former Pullman porter that he murdered in a rage-filled razor duel. Next, he sees himself being whipped by the guard of a chain gang, being put up for sale at a slave auction, and being surrounded by other slaves as he stands in the hold of a slave ship. These unrelenting visions cause Brutus to hyperventilate and panic.
Suddenly, Jones is no longer the oppressor; he has taken the place of the oppressed. He shoots out wildly at the disturbing visions, but they disappear before his very eyes. In the midst of his terror, Brutus can hear the drums of the rebels resounding in rhythmic fervor. Meanwhile, one last vision is revealed to him. Brutus sees a witch doctor signaling to him to offer himself as a sacrifice to placate the evil forces at large. Immediately, a massive crocodile appears to devour him, leaving him in a horrifically helpless position. This isn't the end that he had envisioned for himself. He begs for mercy from God and frantically looks for his silver bullet.
Upon finding it, he loads his gun and fires at the crocodile; the terrifying...
scene immediately disappears before his eyes. Relieved beyond measure, he lays prostrate with his face to the ground. Eventually, the rebels catch up to him and kill him with a shot to his chest. By the time Smithers sees Brutus's body, he notes there is a "little reddish−purple hole under his left breast." Brutus dies in an agony of fear, but more importantly, he dies repenting of the horror he unleashed upon his past, innocent victims. Brutus's final plea for mercy from God contrasts with his initial cynicism and savagery. Thus,The Emperor Jones highlights the protagonist's psychological journey from inhumanity to humanity.