Essay on The Character of Clay in Amiri Baraka's The Dutchman

Essay on The Character of Clay in Amiri Baraka's The Dutchman

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The Character of Clay in Amiri Baraka's The Dutchman


Clay is not naive. He may be misguided, misled, and mistaken, but he is anything but naive. Clay is an individual who has shed the roots of his race, disregarding many of the cultural implications that such a decision could have on him. He is a misguided individual who, because he is human, does the wrong things at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. He continually struggles with his own identity and the power struggle between him and Lula. The notion of power dynamics in The Dutchman is brought forth in the character of Clay, who knows the limits of his power, takes the forbidden fruit from the more powerful Lula, and fantasizes about his own life.

Lula is clearly in control for most of the play. She constantly switches topics, keeping Clay off guard, and making sure that she controls the conversation. To a certain extent, Clay lets her manipulate him. While many conclude that this means Clay is ignorant of black culture, it is likely that he is somewhat of a docile person. This notion is brought up in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, when the invisible man's grandfather says, "Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or burst wide open" (16). In this passage, Ellison demonstrates the possibility of fighting the establishment and going along with what they say yet simultaneously planning against them. Clay may be subversively plotting against Lula at the beginning, or he could simply be recognizing Lula's power and authority. Clay is certainly aware of her power; right from the beginning, he seems to be afraid of her, as illustrate...


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...t The Dutchman, Clay is faced with the constant struggle of identification. In the play, he does not identify with his own race as much as one might expect. Instead, he struggles with a fantasy that he cannot live out: whiteness. Still, he tries to impress Lula by conforming to some of her expectations. While compromise is necessary to cause most changes in society, that compromise should not include compromising one's entire culture. In the play, Clay seems all to willing to go against his race to fulfill his own fantasies about whiteness. He sees Lula as an authority figure, one whom he consents to and compromises with. There is not hope for Clay, as he is dead. There is, however, hope for the American people; America can learn from Clay's mistakes. Many of the issues Clay faces and the mistakes he makes are conflicts that will continue to face minority cultures.

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