Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Island. The play unfolds on a small, unnamed island in the West Indies that provides O’Neill with an appropriate microcosm for his drama that depicts the primitive forces that close in on a domesticated, avaricious African American. The island bears a loose resemblance to the West Indian nation of Haiti, which had a long and chaotic political history after black slaves wrenched control of the western end of Hispaniola away from France in the early nineteenth century. Like O’Neill’s Brutus Jones, Haiti’s first rulers styled themselves “emperors.”

Jones’s palace

Jones’s palace. The play opens in the lavish palace building of the unnamed island nation, where Jones, an escaped convict and former Pullman porter from the United States, lives. With the help of his Cockney sidekick, Smithers, he rules the island as its “emperor.” Jones and Smithers have tricked the superstitious islanders into thinking that Jones has magical powers and cannot be hurt, except by a silver bullet. Jones keeps one to use on himself if suicide becomes necessary. Having extorted money and services from the impoverished islanders, Jones lives opulently.

Great forest

Great forest. The last six scenes of the play occur at night in the great forest that surrounds the palace. Within this forest, Jones—who is running around in circles—is visited by the apparitions of people whom he has killed...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Expressionism is a term used for an artistic movement that initially appeared in painting, as a reaction to...

(The entire section is 911 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The Emperor Jones is a one-act play in eight scenes. The first and last scenes contain several characters and employ...

(The entire section is 1015 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1920: The African American population in the United States is about 10.5 million, or nearly 10% of the American population. The...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Research the history of Expressionism in both painting and theatre in the early-twentieth century and discuss how The Emperor Jones...

(The entire section is 241 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

The Emperor Jones was adapted as a full-length feature film in 1933 and starred Paul Robeson as Brutus Jones and Dudley Digges as Smithers....

(The entire section is 301 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

The German silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) is one of the classic examples of expressionistic technique in film. Odd...

(The entire section is 291 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Bowen, Croswell. The Curse of the Misbegotten, McGraw- Hill, 1959, p. 132.

Broun, Heywood. Review of...

(The entire section is 459 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bogard, Travis. Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. Bogard’s study of O’Neill’s plays revolves around his assertion that O’Neill’s experiments with theatrical devices were part of his attempt to create theater from his quest for identity. The section on The Emperor Jones compares the play to Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (1867).

Falk, Doris V. Eugene O’Neill and the Tragic Tension. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1958. A study of O’Neill’s plays with emphasis on the psychoanalytic theories of depth psychology, noting the influence of...

(The entire section is 321 words.)