Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315
Ironically, when Baraka moved Dutchman to a Harlem theater in order to reach a black audience, the play was quickly rejected by the audiences because they saw it as promoting hatred of whites. Is this a racist, white-hating play?
Clay's reaction to Lula is infuriating because he desperately tries to maintain his composure, his "mask" of bourgeois pretensions, in the face of her ever-more vitriolic racist jibes. Why doesn't he simply ignore her, move to another seat, or ask her to leave him alone? What is the significance of his "fatal attraction" to her?
When Clay finally reacts in outrage, his outburst proves cathartic to the audience as well as to himself. Aristotle in his Poetics suggested that catharsis is the objective of all tragedy that feelings of pity and fear raised in the audience would be purged by the resolution of the tragedy. Over time, critics have debated what Aristotle meant by catharsis. Is it that the audience learns vicariously to avoid the problems that led to the downfall of the tragic hero? Is it that the balance of the audience's own emotions of pity and fear is restored through vicariously watching them resolved in the tragic hero? Or is it that the tragic hero serves as a scapegoat for feelings too strong for the audience to admit? Which of these readings seems to fit the cathartic experience of Baraka's emotionally demanding play?
In Dutchman, Baraka suggests that Clay's pursuit of assimilation with American bourgeois culture, in the form of his intellectual pretensions, is a path of self-destruction. Baraka suggests an alternative: to develop a separate black value system and a new black aesthetic. He purposely built theaters and community centers to promote the cultural ideas of the Black Arts Movement. From a modern perspective, in what ways has this cultural and aesthetic movement of the 1960s succeeded? In what ways has it failed?
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