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The Dutchman by Leroi Jones Essay

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Updated: Jan 11th, 2020


Clay, a twenty year old black man is taking the subway. At first glance he looks like an educated black man. Lulu on the other hand is a thirty year old white woman. She is a decade older than Clay. She is tall, slender, and beautiful. Her long red hair flows straight down her back. It is a chance meeting, man and woman did not know each other. Lulu sits down besides Clay and talks him as if she knew him.

She engages in him in a light conversation. She is teasing him, saying that Clay looked at her with lust in his eyes. In his defense, Clay vehemently denies her accusations. She starts to humiliate him talking about his utter lack of independence, the fact that he is living with his parents and making references to racial slurs and other forms of insults. But the moment that Clay shows his discomfort, she changes her tone and appears to be friendlier. The change of heart disarms Clay and he is caught off-guard.

The light banter quickly turns serious once again but this time she is forcing him to admit that he is a phony, a man who wants to be someone he is not. She is obviously referring to the fact that Clay is a black man trying to behave as if he is a white man.

When things began to overheat she diffuses the tension by making sexual gestures that sent a clear message to her seatmate. She places her hand on Clay’s knee and she said: “Am I exciting you now?” (Baraka, p.4). Once again Clay is caught-off guard and he lowers his defenses once more, each time he allows Lulu to enter deeper into his heart and mind.

Clay is no match for a seductress. He has no clue that Lulu is playing with him. Lulu’s actions are all premeditated and she is trying to lead him to a place to be comfortable and vulnerable before she pounces on her unsuspecting prey. The seduction continues in an accelerated pace. By her words and actions she makes Clay believe that they will make love in her apartment.

Clay believes her with all his heart that there is a genuine attraction between them. This is made evident in the opening of the second scene when the audience can see Lulu hugging the arm of Clay. The young man’s tie is loose and suggests that he is already comfortable with her and willing to follow her lead. The seduction is complete and the hunter is ready for the kill.

Her actions seem to be harmless at first. Lulu is acting as if she is overly excited about something. She began to throw things out of her bag and into the aisle of the train. She began to sing and all of a sudden she was hysterical. She is like woman under the control of a spirit.

It is as if a foul spirit is controlling her like a puppet. It is also as if she is drunk. She is gyrating wildly. The behavior did not really bother Clay except for the words coming out of her mouth. Lulu began to humiliate Clay in front of the other passengers. After some time Clay could no longer take the insults. Clay grabs her arms and forces her to her seat. Lulu refuses to obey and so Clay hit her on the face. The force of the violence slams her head against the back of the seat.

Clay began to verbalize his frustrations and aims his speech at Lulu and the passengers. He told them that the world should let them be. He is referring to the black man and their desire to fit in. He is angry and he said that murder is a simpler solution but he would not use it. But when he calms down and ready to leave the train Lulu stabs her with a knife.

She kills him and all the passengers did nothing. The passengers are passive. When all the passengers are already out of the train, Lulu waits for her next target. A young black man boards the train. After a while an old Negro conductor enters the car and he tips his hat to Lulu.


Clay represents all middle class African-Americans who are desperate to fit in. Clay’s character demonstrates how this can be done by acting like a white man. He is educated and speaks as if he has an English accent. He associates with white people. He is not afraid to interact with them.

The lack of inhibition against white people is made evident when Clay did not back down against an equally talented, beautiful and educated woman in the person of Lulu. Aside from trying to fit into the white man’s world Clay improves on his actions by choosing friends that are like him.

His desire to create a world where whites and blacks can interact is made clear when Lulu made a playful reference to one of his friends and said: “Is Warren Enright a tall skinny black boy with a phony English accent” (Baraka, p.4). While Clay’s desire to live in peace in a white man’s world is acceptable to some, there are those who feels that it is wrong to do so.

This is where the character of Lulu and the old conductor plays a vital role in the story. Lulu hates the idea that Clay is not real. The old conductor represents black people who oppose the actions and belief system of the young man Clay.

Lulu is a complex character. She plays the part of the hunter and she also plays the part of a person who hates black people and everything they stand for. She wants to eliminate from the face of the earth. Aside from being racist she also plays the role of a victim. Lulu represents those who felt that they are victims of the actions of young black man desiring to enter their world.

She resents them and ends up becoming some sort of a persecutor to force black people to realize that they should not aspire to become white. It is also possible that Lulu is a victim of violence and she blames young black man for that crime. She is therefore enforcing the law to punish the guilty.

The old conductor represents all the members of the black community who wants to preserve the status quo. He also represents the fence sitters – the people who are aware that racial violence has been committed and yet refuses to believe in the reports and refuses to act on it. The old conductor is a member of the Negro race and he refuses to lift a finger because he is already content with life and he wants to keep his job.

The young black man who came in at the latter part of the story represents all the young black males that have faith in the system. This young black man is like Clay who came before him. He has the proper attire and the tools he needs to convince others that he is more than willing to do anything to be like white people. His character represents those who thought that imitating the ways of the white man results in acceptance but there are people like Lulu who think otherwise.


The setting of the play represents the world where black and white people interact. It is a meeting place, a location wherein they interact. They may not like each other but in the train station they meet face-to-face and it is inevitable for their bodies to touch because they are to take a journey together. The setting is also a microcosm of the real world in terms of a society filled with different people coming from all sorts of social, political, background.


There are three types of conflict that is evident in the play. The first is man against man or more specifically the conflict between the young black man and the white woman.

The second major conflict is man against himself. Clay is torn by two opposing forces. He knows that he has to be true to himself and that he has to be proud of his heritage but he is also aware that he has to become someone he is not. He imitates the white man because of his desire for acceptance.

The third major conflict is man against society because Clay feels there is oppression from without. He feels the impact of racism and he wants to retaliate but he believes that he is powerless to do so and decides to keep quiet.


One of the symbolisms in the story is the reference to Adam and Eve. The apple is the symbol of seduction and temptation. Lulu comes into the train eating and apple. Clay understands the significance of the action. She makes him understand that the apple is a tool to seduce him.

This symbolism is important if one takes a closer look at the nature of temptation and the consequences of falling into the trap set by the woman. In this play Clay wants to do the right thing. He thought that he is safe by doing the right thing. Nevertheless, the temptation is stronger than he thought. The symbolism helps explain the struggles of the young black man.


The significance of the play can be seen in two ways. The first one is the need to break free from the idea that acceptance can only be achieved by conforming into an alien and restrictive lifestyle. Clay is unhappy but he forces himself to do things against his true desire. He is hoping that he can receive the acceptance and friendship of the white people.

Although Clay is wrong in trying to imitate white people and doing things for the sake of maintaining the status quo, Lulu exhibits a more destructive behavior because her hatred causes her to kill. One of the moral lessons of the story is that violence is not the answer. If one uses violence then there is no resolution because the cycle continues.


One of the main themes is Race and Racism. This is made evident in Lulu’s harsh response to Clay’s choice of clothes and she says:

What’ve you got that jacket and tie on in all this heat for? And why’re you wearing a jacket and tie like that? Did your people ever burn witches or start revolution over the price of tea? Boy, those narrow-shoulder clothes come from a tradition you ought to feel oppressed by. A three-button suit. What right do you have to be wearing a three-button snit and striped tie? Your grandfather was a slave; he didn’t go to Harvard (Baraka, p.9).

In every chance that she could get Lulu tries to insult and humiliate Clay because of his race. Lulu is not only hateful to black people she is also mean to people that does not shares her religious background. Her racist attitude is evident in the following statement: “You’re too serious.

I bet you’re even too serious to be psychoanalyzed. Like all those Jewish poets from Yonkers, who leave their mothers for other mothers, or other’s mothers, on whose baggy tits they lay their fumbling heads” (Baraka, p.17).

The racist behavior leads to Cruelty and Violence, Passivity another major theme in the story. Both Clay and Lulu are guilty of violence. Clay hurt her and the drunkard with his excessive use of force. However, it is interesting to note that the passenger and the conductor did nothing to stop Lulu’s murderous rampage and that is a clear example of passivity.

The third major theme is Victim and Victimization. This is seen through Lulus actions and words. In an indirect way Lulu is saying that she is a victim and she is doing these things to force the guilty to pay for their sins. She is playing the part of a victim. But at the same time she also acts the part of the person who is doing the “victimization” as she stalks and murder hapless prey.

The fourth major theme is Sex Roles and is made evident by the sexual tension in the interaction of Clay and Lulu. This is an important theme to discuss because in the area of sexuality there is equality among people belonging to different social and cultural backgrounds. Lulu is white and Clay is black but they are attracted to each another. At least Clay demonstrates that he can flirt with a white woman and he can have a relationship with a white female.

The fifth major them is Retribution. Lulu is killing young black men. It is an obsession. She is on some sort of a mission. She is a hunter looking for her prey and she seduces them for the purpose of killing them. It is possible that Lulu is a victim of some past crime and the perpetrator is an educated young black man.

This is her way of seeking retribution. She has become a murderer but in her mind her actions is justified. She hates them for what they have done to her. However, payback time comes in the same way that she has been victimized by the perpetrator of the crime, she seduces them first so that they would not see the knife that she would use to kill them.

Work Cited

Baraka, Amiri. The Dutchman. New York: HarperCollins, 1964.

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