What important lesson did Jones say he learned while working on the Pullman cars, and how does that lesson inform what he is doing as emperor on the island?

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In scene one of The Emperor Jones, the title character chats to Henry Smithers, the English adventurer. The conversation quickly turns to how Jones has managed to make such a huge fortune out of his new subjects. As Smithers notes with more than a hint of admiration Jones has pretty much squeezed his subjects dry through punitive taxation. Not quite, replies Jones; if he'd squeezed them dry he wouldn't still be their leader.

Smithers goes on to observe that Jones breaks his own laws just as fast he can make them. But Jones doesn't see the problem with that. After all, he's the Emperor, and, as far as he's concerned, what he says, goes. He makes the laws alright, but that doesn't mean that they apply to him.

Jones then goes on to make a distinction between little stealing, as he calls it, in which Smithers indulges himself, and big stealing, which is what Jones does. The former can land you in jail, whereas the latter brings you enormous power, the kind of power that Jones is only too happy to exercise on the island. For good measure, engaging in big stealing will also make you famous when you die. Jones says that he learned this lesson from overhearing rich white people talk when he worked as a Pullman porter for ten years.

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