Sunday 6 December 2020

Book Review of 'The Emperor Jones' by Eugene O'Neill

This is my first book of the famous American author and my expectations were rather high. I wasn't disappointed with the read, although I did have some misgivings in the characterisation. It is a short, but deep read with multiple themes and symbolic references. I enjoyed the plays Anna Christie and The Hairy Ape that read after this one, a lot more. 

The narrative is high on imagery. One can picturize the palace as well as the jungle, with all it's subtle nuances. The aural imagery is the most powerful element, with the beating if the drums that play a key role in the Emperor's mental degeneration.

The character of the Emperor displays the two faces that the powerful - one that effuses confidence, hiding the fear in the mind and the other that succumbs to the forces at play. The main character is however, the forest itself. It is the looming presence that shapes the progress of the story. 

The most interesting aspect of the storyline is the psychological symbolism. The drum beats, silver bullet and  the vivid hallucinations offer a good sense of heightening tension as the play progresses. The climax is riddled with a sense of drama and musical euphoria. The mystical elements blend well into the themes of guilt, betrayal, danger and fear.

The main grouse that readers will have is the  blatant racism. The racist hues are strong, both verbally as well as symbolically. O'Neill implies that 'Negroid' men cannot be expected to have positively distinct characteristics. 

I rate the play a 4.2 out of 5. Hope to find this review useful.

Happy reading, readers. 

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