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Dutchman & The Slave by Amiri Baraka
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's review
Dec 28, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: drama, africana-literature
Read from December 27 to 28, 2011

In Dutchman and The Slave, both plays published in 1964, Amiri Baraka (he was still LeRoi Jones at the time) presents two plays that explore a search for Black identity and consciousness and a question of sanity. Striking parallels and reversals reaffirm the sense that these two plays are meant to go hand in hand.

In Dutchman, Baraka presents to the theater audience a piece that is simple in structure—it features two characters and two scenes in a subway car—yet saturated with complexity and haunting implications. Lula, a thirty-year-old white woman, starts a flirtatious conversation with Clay, a young, middle-class Black man (presumably a businessman), that sours quickly and ultimately ends with Clay’s murder at the hands of Lula. In the closing scene, Lula—by now it's clear that she's an agent of the white power structure—proceeds to seek out her next victim.

In The Slave, Baraka reincarnates Lula and Clay but reverses their roles. No longer is Clay the hapless victim of white oppression; Clay is now Walker Vessels, a leader of an armed Black liberation movement that is waging direct war against white society. Walker, unable to completely sever his ties with his past, finds himself in the home of his white ex-wife, Grace, and her new white husband, Brad Easley. He defends himself against the latter two's accusations of racism and murder in the name of Black liberation, but their ideologies are beyond reconciliation. Brad and Grace's deaths seem to be inevitable, but the final excision of Walker's past comes with his children.

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