Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
Baraka's one-act play opens in darkness. A variety of sounds and smells are emitted to the audience in order to represent the "atmosfeeling'' of life in the hold of a slave ship. The sounds include that of the sea, and the boat rocking, as well as the sounds of the suffering of the enslaved Africans, and the sounds of the white slave traders. The smells are meant to create an atmosphere of ‘‘life processes going on anyway,’’ and include "urine" and ‘‘excrement.’’ A light comes up on two white sailors chatting idly about the "riches'' to be had from the slave trade in America, above the "drone of terror'' from the hold below them. While the stage is still in almost complete darkness, the sounds of the enslaved Africans on the ship continue, and begin to include the sounds of humming, and chanting, as well as the voices of the suffering Africans, calling out to their gods. The sailors above them laugh and point at the suffering Africans. From the ship's hold, one man cries out that a woman has killed her baby and herself. The sounds of another African woman being assaulted and raped by a white sailor are heard. The sounds of an African man struggling with the white man in defense of the raped African woman are also heard. Throughout, the sounds of African women humming can be heard almost continuously.
The second section of the play takes place on a Southern plantation in America. A character referred to as ‘‘The Old Tom,’’ is described as ‘‘a shuffling 'Negro.'’’ He dances and shuffles in a show of self-deprecation, speaking subserviently to "massa,'' as the two White Men, dressed as plantation owners, continue laughing. A group of enslaved African Americans plan a revolt in discussion with the Preacher, as the Old Tom looks on The Old Tom then reports the planned revolt to the white slave masters in exchange for a couple of pork chops. The revolt is staged in darkness, the struggle indicated only by sounds.
In the third section, a Preacher in a business suit, referred to as the New Tom, gives a speech, intended to placate the white men, advocating integration. A man approaches the Preacher and lays the bloody corpse of a baby at his feet. As the Preacher continues his speech, which turns into jabbering nonsense, he attempts to kick the corpse behind him. The voice of the White Man is heard pleading for his life as he is killed in revolt. The African-American characters, as a group, begin to dance to modern jazz music. The stage directions indicate that the cast is to invite members of the audience to dance, creating a "party'' atmosphere. Amidst this festive, ritualized dancing, which indicates a celebration of successful revolt, the head of the Preacher is thrown into the center of the dancers. The stage then goes black.