Bertolt Brecht, LeRoi Jones and Antonin Artaud

Bertolt Brecht, LeRoi Jones and Antonin Artaud

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Bertolt Brecht, LeRoi Jones and Antonin Artaud

In LeRoi Jones's play, "Dutchman," elements of realism, naturalism and
non-realism abound. The play features characters such as Clay, a
twenty-year-old Negro, Lula, a thirty-year-old white woman, both white
and black passengers on a subway coach, a young Negro and a conductor.

All of these characters take a ride that, for each, ends with different
destinations and leaves the audience to sort through the details and
find conclusions themselves. In this play, Jones uses realistic,
naturalistic and non-realistic elements to convey social issues such as
racism in the author's own disillusioned style. Jones's portrayal is
supported with the influences of Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud,
whose own disillusionment enhanced their works and greatly diversified
theatrical conventions. "Dutchman" is a play that should be talked
about by its audience so they can take part cleanse themselves of the
issues within, therefore, as many conclusions can be drawn by the
individuals exposed in this play as there are numbers of people that
have seen or read it.

Realism and naturalism arose out of a world which was increasingly becoming scientifically advanced. Airplanes,railroads, automobiles, steamboats and communication advances such as television, radio, the telephone and the telegraph
increased the speed and the amount of information that human
beings can send. Realism and naturalism " . . . arose in part
as responses to those new social and philosophical conditions
(Cameron and Gillespie, pg. 335)." Following in a realistic
style, Jones sets his play in contemporary times and in a contemporary
place- the subway. Jones sets the scene with a man sitting in a subway
seat while holding a magazine. Dim and flickering lights and darkness
whistle by against the glass window to his right. These aesthetic
adornments give the illusion of speed associated with subway travel.

Realists believed that the most effective purpose of art was to improve
humanity by portraying contemporary life and its problems in realistic
settings. Jones depicts racism and murder in a modern setting to
remind us that racism and racially motivated murders are not issues
only relegated to our nation's past, nor is the issue of
institutionalized racism.

Jones also used non-realistic elements in his play and was
probably influenced by Bertolt Brecht in doing so. Brecht once
wrote that " . . . to think, or write or produce a play also
means to transform society, to transform the state, to subject
ideologies to close scrutiny (Goosens, 1997)." Jones was
influenced by Brecht by producing a play in a revolutionary
poetic style which scrutinizes ideologies of race.

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Jones also
modeled Brecht's style of character development, creating
^verfremdung' (estrangement). Brecht reasoned that " . . . man
is such and such because circumstances are such (Goosens,
1997)." This effect explains the murder of Clay resulting from
a society that has perpetuated institutionalized racism and
segregation as historically acceptable. Brecht's aspiration
was to provoke an audience into reforming society and to leave
an audience with the need to take action against a social
problem in order to complete an emotional cleansing coined,

^Theatre of Alie! nation." Jones undoubtedly has the same
goal in mind while creating "The Dutchman."

Antonin Artaud also had an influence on the theatre, and
possibly on Jones. "Artaud advocated a total spectacle with
lights, violent gestures and noise in place of music (Barber,
1990)." Artaud's style for theatre and cinema, envisioned as
Theatre of Cruelty, shattered representations of spoken
language and carefully orchestrated theatrical action. Artaud
directed his fury against a society which was in a state of
constant confrontation by favoring controlled writing against
dream imagery. Jones's use of dialogue where nothing is what
is seems unless spoken by Clay is an example of Artaud's style
of fury. Lula exemplifies this also through her dialogue with
its slippery candor which eventually causes Clay to respond
candidly with a fury of his own. This fury expresses more
truth about the minds of black America in a nutshell than
countless books on U.S. interracial relations have portrayed.

The play nears its conclusion as Lula violently kills Clay with
wild and raw ob! literation, ending this carefully
orchestrated plot. The use of realistic and naturalistic elements as
well as non-realistic elements makes LeRoi Jones' play, "Dutchman," a
hybrid. The realistic elements include the setting (a subway coach
racing along through the subterranean world of lights and busy
stations). The characters, Clay and Lula, are real people with real
histories and real agendas facing a real issue- racism. The
non-realistic elements which predominate in "Dutchman" include Brecht's
verfremdung and the element of Theatre of Alienation, as well as
Artaud's racy dialogue and violent gestures elemental in his Theatres
of Cruelty. Because "Dutchman" is a hybrid, it deserves a new
categorization that represents Jones's style. A term that can describe
this style is "Theatre of Illumination." The Theatre of Illumination
sheds light on each individual's unconscious reasoning which forces the
audience to reveal its own consciousness. When this happens, the
audien! ce can be ready to challenge their own judgements in a
constructive way. On the surface, there can always be supported
reasoning found for any prejudice or preconceived notion, but the
Theatre of Illumination transcends the surface preoccupations of
reasoning and dissolves the mists that shroud everyone's apparent
opinions and renders humanity naked, infantile and in our primordial
state of seeking love and acceptance. In this state, we search for
anyone who will unconditionally love us, and accept them for that. The
Theatre of Illumination awakens our hearts with yearning, sobbing and
human repentance as we realize the wrongs that are possible, and also
realize how useless those wrongs actually are.


Barber, Stephen. "Antonin Artaud." 1990.

Cameron, Kenneth and Gillespie, Patti. Enjoyment of Theatre. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, 4th ed. 1996.

Goosens, Shay. "Bertolt Brecht: A Theatrical Genius." 1997.

Jones, LeRoi. Dutchman. William and Morrow, New York, New York. 1964.
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