The Emperor Jones

by

Eugene O’Neill

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Emperor Jones can help.

Brutus Jones Character Analysis

Brutus Jones, the protagonist of the play, is a black American who has become the emperor of an unnamed island in the West Indies. Prior the start of the play, Jones worked for ten years as a porter on Pullman sleeper trains, where he learned from listening to white passengers that "big stealin" is far more profitable than "little stealin'." Jones is incarcerated when he kills a black man, Jeff, for cheating him at a dice game, and then he murders a white prison guard before escaping to the island in the Caribbean where he sets himself up as emperor. Jones uses what he learned from his time in the United States to exert power over his black native subjects, and he elevates himself to the level of a god. To complete the façade, Jones also tells the natives that he can only be killed by a silver bullet and has one made in case he ever needs to commit suicide. When Jones first learns from Smithers that the natives are revolting, Jones shows that he's a quick thinker and is flexible in his plans, as he immediately moves up his escape plan and leaves that night. However, Jones's cockiness and belief in his own success brings about his undoing. As he wanders through the forest, the natives send apparitions that make Jones progressively more terrified and more human. The apparitions force Jones to reckon with his personal past by sending both Jeff and the prison guard to haunt him, as well as apparitions of the history of slavery in the United States. Though Jones tries to fight these apparitions by praying and insisting they're not real, he works his way through his five lead bullets and finally uses his silver bullet to kill the crocodile god summoned by the witch doctor. In doing so, he symbolically kills his own charade of godliness. At this point, once Jones is truly a man, the natives are able to kill him and remove him from power.

Brutus Jones Quotes in The Emperor Jones

The The Emperor Jones quotes below are all either spoken by Brutus Jones or refer to Brutus Jones. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of The Emperor Jones published in 2011.
Scene 1 Quotes

And I'm bloody glad of it, for one! Serve 'im right! Puttin' on airs, the stinkin' nigger! 'Is Majesty! Gawd blimey! I only 'opes I'm there when they takes 'im out to shoot 'im.

Related Characters: Smithers (speaker), Brutus Jones, The Old Woman
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Talk polite, white man! Talk polite, you heah me! I'm boss heah now, is you fergettin'?

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers
Related Symbols: The Color White, Jones's Uniform
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

No use'n you rakin' up ole times. What I was den is one thing. What I is now 's another.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers
Related Symbols: The Color White, Jones's Uniform
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

You didn't s'pose I was holdin' down dis Emperor job for de glory in it, did you? Sho'! De fuss and glory part of it, dat's only to turn de heads o' de low-flung, bush niggers dat's here. Dey wants de big circus show for deir money. I gives it to 'em an' I gits de money.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Smithers: Look at the taxes you've put on 'em! Blimey! You've squeezed 'em dry!

Jones: No, dey ain't all dry yet. I'se still heah, ain't I?

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

For de little stealin' dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stealin' dey makes you Emperor and puts in de Hall o' Fame when you croaks. If dey's one thing I learns in ten years on de Pullman ca's listenin' to de white quality talk, it's dat same fact. And when I gits a chance to use it I winds up Emperor in two years.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers
Related Symbols: The Color White
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

You'd 'ave been in jail if you 'ad, wouldn't yer then? And from what I've 'eard, it ain't 'ealthy for a black to kill a white man in the States. They burns 'em in oil, don't they?

Related Characters: Smithers (speaker), Brutus Jones
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Think dese ign'rent bush niggers dat ain't got brains enuff to know deir own names even can catch Brutus Jones? Huh, I s'pects not! Not on yo' life! Why, man, de white men went after me wid bloodhounds where I come from an' I jes' laughs at 'em. It's a shame to fool dese black trash around heah, dey're so easy.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers
Related Symbols: The Color White
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Doesn't you know dey's got to do so wid a man was member in good standin' o' de Baptist Church? Sho' I was dat when I was porter on de Pullmans, befo' I gits into my little trouble. Let dem try deir heathen tricks. De Baptist Church done pertect me and land dem all in hell.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Does you think I'd slink out de back door like a common nigger? I'se Emperor yit, ain't I? And de Emperor Jones leaves de way he comes, and dat black trash don't dare stop him—not yit, leastways.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Smithers
Related Symbols: The Color White, Jones's Uniform
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 2 Quotes

How come all dese white stones come heah when I only remembers one? Nigger, is you crazy mad? Is you lightin' matches to show dem whar you is? Fo' Lawd's sake, use yo' haid.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Color White
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 3 Quotes

Dis am a long night fo' yo', yo' Majesty! Majesty! Der ain't much majesty 'bout dis baby now. Never min'. It's all part o' de game. Dis night come to an end like everything else.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker)
Related Symbols: Jones's Uniform
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 4 Quotes

Damn dis heah coat! Like a straight-jacket!...And to hell wid dese high-fangled spurs. Dey're what's been a-trippin' me up an' breakin' my neck. Dere! I gits rid o' dem frippety Emperor trappin's an' I travels lighter.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker)
Related Symbols: Jones's Uniform
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Oh, I'se sorry I evah went in for dis. Dat Emperor job is sho' hard to shake.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, suh! Yes, suh! I'se comin'.

God damn yo' soul, I gits even wid you yit, sometime.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), The Prison Guard
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

I kills you, you white debil, if it's de last thing I evah does! Ghost or debil, I kill you again!

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), The Prison Guard
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 5 Quotes

Lawd, I done wrong! And down heah war dese fool bush niggers raises me up to the seat o' de mighty, I steals all I could grab. Lawd, I done wrong! I knows it! I'se sorry! Forgive me, Lawd! Forgive dis po' sinner!

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), Lem, Jeff, The Prison Guard
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 6 Quotes

Oh, Lawd, what I gwine do now? Ain't got no bullet left on'y de silver one. If mo' o' dem ha'nts come after me, how I gwine skeer dem away? Oh, Lawd, on'y de silver one left—an' I gotta save dat fo' luck. If I shoots dat one I'm a goner sho'!

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 7 Quotes

What—what is I doin'? What is—dis place? Seems like—seems like I know dat tree—an' dem stones—an' de river. I remember—seems like I been heah befo'.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker), The Witch Doctor
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 8 Quotes

Well, they did for yer right enough, Jonsey, me lad! Dead as a 'erring! Where's yer 'igh an' mighty airs now, yer bloomin' Majesty? Silver bullets! Gawd blimey, but yer died in the 'eighth o' style, any'ow!

Related Characters: Smithers (speaker), Brutus Jones, Lem
Related Symbols: The Silver Bullet
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Emperor Jones LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Emperor Jones PDF

Brutus Jones Character Timeline in The Emperor Jones

The timeline below shows where the character Brutus Jones appears in The Emperor Jones. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones, the emperor, enters the throne room, dressed in a blue and red military uniform covered... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Smithers asks Jones if he noticed anything funny earlier, and Jones declares that nothing is amiss. Sarcastically, Smithers... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones scoffs at the mention of Smithers’ job, and Smithers, enraged, reminds Jones that he helped... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Smithers reminds Jones that nobody else would hire him when they found out that Jones had broken out... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers asks Jones if he has money hidden somewhere safe, and Jones shares that his money is hidden... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers cautiously points out that Jones has been doing the same sort of thing with taxes, and the natives are out... (full context)
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Admiringly, Smithers agrees that Jones successfully tricked the natives. He's never seen anyone with such luck. Jones is offended that... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones says that he's smart and he thinks quickly, which isn't luck. Smithers points out that... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Smithers sniffs, and Jones suggests that "talkin' big" is what makes a man powerful, assuming he can make people... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers blushes and changes the subject. He asks Jones if the rumors are true that he actually had a silver bullet made, and Jones... (full context)
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Astonished, Smithers asks again if Jones actually had a silver bullet made. Jones pulls out his revolver, unloads it, and pulls... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Smithers venomously makes fun of Jones having a good luck charm, but says that he'll need all the help he can... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Smithers expresses disbelief, and Jones sharply asks Smithers if he thinks that Jones is a liar. Quickly, Smithers brings up... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...desperately to laugh off this threat, Smithers insists that he was only joking, and reminds Jones that he said himself he's never been to jail. Jones suggests that maybe he (Jones)... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Terrified, Smithers reminds Jones that he's always been a friend, and Jones relaxes and tells Smithers he should plan... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones is confused, and asks Smithers to elaborate. Smithers asks Jones if he's noticed that none... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Enraged, Jones throws the bell and yells obscenities about the natives. He notices Smithers again and composes... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers cautions Jones and says that Lem, the native chief, is certainly behind the revolt. He says that... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Indignantly, Jones insists he's not a fool: he's been going out in the forest to "hunt" for... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers asks what'll happen if the natives do catch Jones, and Jones insists they won't. When pressed on the matter, Jones says he has five... (full context)
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
From the hills, Jones and Smithers hear a faint beating of a tom-tom. It beats at the rate of... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...natives are also holding their "heathen" religious service, and are casting charms to help them. Jones asserts that it'll take more than charms to scare him, but sensing that Jones is... (full context)
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones sniffs and declares that he's not scared of things like Smithers is. He says that... (full context)
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers laughs and says that it doesn't seem like Jones has given much thought to the Baptist Church since he became emperor, and he's heard... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers wishes Jones luck, and Jones insists he'll have such a head start that the natives will never... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones walks to the main entryway and looks around, and Smithers asks if Jones is really... (full context)
Scene 2
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones reaches the edge of the forest as night falls. He looks around, appears satisfied that... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones looks at the forest, and with awe he admits that Smithers was right: the forest... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Changing the subject, Jones re-laces his boots and decides he's getting nervous because he's hungry. When he finishes putting... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones jumps to his feet and decides he must be in the wrong place, but he... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
As Jones scans the plain, the "little formless fears" creep out of the forest towards him. They're... (full context)
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones fires, and the rhythm of the tom-tom increases again. The little formless fears scuttle back... (full context)
Scene 3
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...Jeff appears in the clearing, throwing dice again and again. Jeff pays no notice when Jones comes into view at the edge of the clearing. Jones, talking to himself in a... (full context)
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones wonders how long he's been walking, and comments on the oppressive heat. He refers to... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
As Jones fully enters the clearing, he notices the clicking sound of the dice. He remarks with... (full context)
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones keeps watching Jeff roll the dice, his fear mounting. He stutters and asks Jeff if... (full context)
Scene 4
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...moon is high in the sky. A road runs through the forest, illuminated by moonlight. Jones stumbles onto it, his uniform more torn and looking very ragged. When he notices he's... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones sighs again and remarks that he'll be able to travel faster without the "frippety" emperor... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Jones looks around and suspiciously wonders where the road came from, since he's never seen it... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
The fear returns to Jones's voice as he pleads with God to not let him see any more ghosts. Jones... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
The prison guard fixes his stare on Jones and points at Jones with his whip. He motions for Jones to take his place... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Though he has no shovel, Jones "shovels" with the others, matching their mechanical motions. Abruptly, the prison guard steps towards Jones... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones asks where his shovel is, and then pleads with the other convicts to give him... (full context)
Scene 5
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Around one in the morning, Jones reaches a circular clearing with a large, dead stump in the middle of it. He... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
With fear in his voice, Jones asks Jesus to keep the natives away and to stop the sound of the tom-tom.... (full context)
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
As Jones sits and stares at his shoes, a silent crowd enters the clearing. The crowd is... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
...place next to the stump. Once he has the attention of the crowd, he taps Jones on the shoulder and motions for him to stand up on the stump. When Jones... (full context)
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Desperately, Jones looks around. The look on his face changes slowly from terror to realization, and with... (full context)
Scene 6
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Two hours later, Jones' pleading is audible as he approaches a clearing. The clearing isn't a true clearing; vines... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Jones startles and looks up. When he notices the figures, he buries his face in the... (full context)
Scene 7
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
At five in the morning, Jones, still wailing rhythmically as he did in the previous scene, stumbles into another open clearing,... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Suddenly, Jones straightens up and seems aware of what he's doing. He looks around, horrified, and says... (full context)
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...again. His dance becomes even wilder as his mimed terror mounts, and he croons incantations. Jones appears hypnotized watching this, and begins chanting and beating his hands on the ground in... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...points with his charm stick to a tree, the river, the altar, and then to Jones. He commands something to Jones, and Jones understands that he will be offered as the... (full context)
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
As Jones moans, the witch doctor jumps to the edge of the river and seems to call... (full context)
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...of the river as the witch doctor's chanting and the tom-tom reaches a fever pitch. Jones cries out and pleads for Jesus to hear his prayers. As he cries out, Jones... (full context)
Scene 8
Racism Theme Icon
...carry guns. One of the soldiers points to the ground, where it appears as though Jones entered the forest, and he grunts. Lem and Smithers approach to inspect the ground. After... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Lem only says, in an unconcerned tone, that they'll catch Jones. He motions to his soldiers and they crouch down in a semicircle. Smithers asks if... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
...for a moment before whispering in a derisive tone that the snapping cannot possibly be Jones. Once again, Lem repeats that they'll catch Jones, and Smithers insults the natives. (full context)
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers thinks for a moment and reasons that the sound could very well be Jones, as the forest could've turned Jones in a circle easily. Suddenly, Lem shushes Smithers, and... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Snarling, Smithers asks how Lem knows that Jones is dead. Lem explains that his men have silver bullets, and when Smithers looks astonished,... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Lem ignores this and tells Smithers that his soldiers are bringing out Jones's body now. Sure enough, the soldiers emerge from the trees, carrying Jones's dead body. Jones... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Smithers mocks Jones's dead body, calling him "your majesty" and asking where his "airs" are now. Smithers smiles... (full context)