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Binaries And Identities In Amiri Baraka's Dutchman

1427 words - 6 pages

In Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman, the binary between black and white people embeds itself into the characters on the subway. Lula, who incorporates her image with control and deception through her white skin, represents one significant driving force. Clay, who faces manipulation from the oppressive white presence of Lula and the others on the train, has to step up and become an opposing force. Throughout these characters transformations from individuals to powers, they express a combination of double consciousness and self-consciousness to reveal their true identities.
The majority of the play focuses on the double-consciousness aspect using actions like looking, stereotyping, and seducing. For example, the initial interaction between Lula and Clay involves looking at each other through the subway window. While the word looking suggests an innocent, even friendly demeanor, Lula interjects her own interpretation to Clay, saying “But only after I’d turned around and saw you staring through that window down in the vicinity of my legs and ass” (Baraka 7; italics mine). Lula’s use of the word staring adds a dimension of judgment to the action, turning what was a harmless gesture into a more intense and seductive exploit. Another perspective on this scene comes from Nita Kumar’s essay, “The Logic of Retribution: Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman”, in which he interprets Lula’s beginning dialogue as “[it] begins to hint, very obtrusively, at the hiatus between “being” and “looking” and later, “’Looking,’ both in its active sense of ‘seeing’ and ‘perceiving’ and in its passive sense of ‘appearing’ forms a central preoccupation of this play” (Kumar 5). Using his interpretation, another binary between the real individual and the perceived mask arises, which shows that Lula, too, will be subjected to a white form of double consciousness.
During the first act, Lula talks straight and elusively, and then begins to mold Clay into her perceived type of the young black male. For instance, Lula reveals to Clay and to the audience “You look like you been trying to grow a beard…You look like you live in New Jersey with your parents…You look like death eating a soda cracker” (Baraka 8). By making him into someone familiar, she delineates who he is allowed to be in her presence. Her further stereotypes cause Clay no outward actions at this point, but he realizes Lula simultaneously knows subtle details yet nothing real about him, causing him to become aware of double consciousness. In addition to harmless assumptions, she later makes crude stereotypical remarks to him like “Boy, those narrow-shoulder clothes come from a tradition you ought to feel oppressed by…What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit and striped tie? Your grandfather was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard” (Baraka 18). From their interaction, the characters gain substance as Clay pushes against the stereotypical form while also falling into it, and Lula adds more hostility to her façade of self.
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