The Character of Clay in Amiri Baraka's The Dutchman
Clay is not naive. He may be misguided, misled, and mistaken, but he is anything but naive. Clay is an individual who has shed the roots of his race, disregarding many of the cultural implications that such a decision could have on him. He is a misguided individual who, because he is human, does the wrong things at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. He continually struggles with his own identity and the power struggle between him and Lula. The notion of power dynamics in The Dutchman is brought forth in the character of Clay, who knows the limits of his power, takes the forbidden fruit from the more powerful Lula, and fantasizes about his own life.
Lula is clearly in control for most of the play. She constantly switches topics, keeping Clay off guard, and making sure that she controls the conversation. To a certain extent, Clay lets her manipulate him. While many conclude that this means Clay is ignorant of black culture, it is likely that he is somewhat of a docile person. This notion is brought up in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, when the invisible man's grandfather says, "Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or burst wide open" (16). In this passage, Ellison demonstrates the possibility of fighting the establishment and going along with what they say yet simultaneously planning against them. Clay may be subversively plotting against Lula at the beginning, or he could simply be recognizing Lula's power and authority. Clay is certainly aware of her power; right from the beginning, he seems to be afraid of her, as illustrated by the following:
LULA. Weren't you staring at me through the window? At the last stop?
CLAY. Staring at you? What do you mean?
LULA. Don't you know what staring means?
CLAY. I saw you through the window . . . if that's what it means. I don't know if I was staring. Seems to me you were staring through the window at me.
LULA. I was. But only after I'd turned around and saw you staring through that window down in the vicinity of my ass and legs.
LULA. Really. I guess you were just taking those idle pot-shots. Nothing else to do. Run your mind over people's flesh.
CLAY. Oh boy. Wow, now I admit I was looking in your direction. But the rest of that weight is yours. (6-7)
Clay is timid in the dialogue, and he is somewhat taken aback or even embarrassed in the fourth line, when he pauses. As one might expect, he is awkward and timid when approached by an individual with a higher social status. Part of this is due to exterior appearances--the fact that Lula is white intimidates him. He doesn't totally deny staring at Lula, which could mean either that he was not staring at her or simply that he did not want to admit it, fearful of the consequences. Like invisible man's grandfather would want in...