Baraka, Imamu Amiri (Vol. 5)

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Baraka, Imamu Amiri 1934–

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Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones, is a prize-winning Black American poet, playwright, director, editor, and community organizer closely associated with Black nationalism. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)

LeRoi Jones's Dutchman earned him a reputation as the Negro scourge of white complacency, an angry, knowing, ultracontemporary playwright. But his … short plays, The Toilet and The Slave, reveal him as an archsentimentalist, a dramatist who uses obscenities and wrath to mask a poverty of ideas and a painfully immature emotional structure. (p. 231)

[The Toilet] is entirely unconvincing. There has merely been an undramatized assertion that out of perversion can come love, a sentimental broad jump over all the intervening difficulties. Beyond this, the presence of a [secondary] white character who functions as a voyeur is an infuriatingly juvenile note introduced so that Jones can have it both ways. For the white boy speaks up against the brutality but at the same time is a fairy who clearly doesn't "belong there," where real life is going on.

The two plays are united by Jones's adolescent need to have his cake and eat it, to seem to be arguing for peace and reconciliation while flaying whites with every weapon his limited arsenal contains. The Slave is a "fable" set at some future time when a Negro insurrection is devastating the country. It is a pas de trois among a white liberal couple and the woman's first husband, a Negro who is now the leader of the rebellion. He breaks into their house and holds them at gunpoint, his purpose being to take away the two daughters he had by the woman. Jones's purpose presumably is to have the three engage in denunciation and counterdenunciation, giving both sides of the racial question. (pp. 231-32)

But on one level Jones writes like nothing so much as a lesser Edna St. Vincent Millay pontificating on the state of world and soul—"I have killed for all times any creative impulses I will ever have by the depravity of my murderous philosophies," the Negro says. On another level Jones employs frequent obscenities exactly the way people in real life do—to preclude the possibility, and danger, of thought. And though Jones allows the white man to call the Negro a maniacal, destructive racist, he stacks the cards ferociously against him. Once more the white is effete, incapable of satisfying the woman as the Negro did, and a liberal whose values pale before the apocalyptic vision of Negro power and healing violence.

In the end the Negro shoots the white man, after which a bomb flattens the house. "The children," moans the fatally injured wife. "They're dead," replies the Negro. Whatever tragic insight resides in these words comes too late. Jones has simply bypassed a terrain mined with all the explosive truths about human conflict. To traverse this dangerous ground he will need more resources—and more courage. (p. 232)

Richard Gilman, "Evasive Action" (1964), in his Common and Uncommon Masks: Writings on Theatre 1961–1970 (copyright © 1971 by Richard Gilman; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Random House, 1971, pp. 231-32.

The Slave … is a blatant, unmodulated scream of racial abuse; its primary purpose, one assumes, was authorial self-gratification…. It is so devoid of conflict, of dramatic content—the whites are such pappy, wish-fulfilling projections ("Professor No-Dick"), the gunman such a sick, simple noise, that the only reasonable response, white or black, is one of embarrassed and annoyed detachment. Which, perhaps, is what Jones wanted.

The Dutchman … is quite another matter. It may be the most important imaginative literary document of the American race war since Native Son. And it works. Jones has here channeled his hate equally into two antagonists, a young Negro boy and the violent white female (a stunning part for an actress)...

(The entire section contains 5269 words.)

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