What is the significance of the old peasant woman in Emperor Jones?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The nameless native peasant woman appears only briefly at the beginning of the play. In the stage directions, she is described as old, poor, and afraid of something. There is a rebellion going on, and perhaps she is taking advantage of it to steal (Smithers thinks so) and perhaps not (she claims she isn’t stealing). Her main function is simply to help fill in the situation for the audience by her responses to Smithers. She also serves as an example of “everywoman”, of the poor peasants who don’t really care whether Jones or someone else is running things, but just wants to avoid trouble.