The Emperor Jones

by

Eugene O’Neill

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Smithers Character Analysis

Smithers is a cantankerous white sailor and a friend of sorts of Jones's. From his opening conversation with Jones, the viewer learns that Smithers gave Jones his start on the island by employing him, which allowed Jones to eventually become emperor. However, it also becomes clear that Smithers is exceptionally racist: he can barely contain his rage that Jones is a powerful emperor, and he speaks poorly of the black natives as well. Though at times Smithers seems to feel some genuine affection and admiration for Jones, his racism colors everything he says and does in relation to Jones and the natives. Jones points out that in ten years of trading with the natives, Smithers hasn't learned a word of their language even though doing so would certainly help him profit—an indication that Smithers doesn't see anything the natives do as worth his time or consideration. Because Smithers appears only in the first and last scenes and isn't a strictly necessary character in terms of plot, the play situates Smithers as a narrator of sorts and asks the reader and viewer to identify with him and with his interpretation of events. This reinforces Smithers's racist point of view as "correct" per the logic of the play.

Smithers Quotes in The Emperor Jones

The The Emperor Jones quotes below are all either spoken by Smithers or refer to Smithers. 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 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

Smithers Character Timeline in The Emperor Jones

The timeline below shows where the character Smithers appears in The Emperor Jones. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1
Racism Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...of being discovered. Assured she's alone, she tiptoes through the room—only to be intercepted by Smithers, a cruel white sailor. He grabs her by the shoulders and she frantically begs Smithers... (full context)
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Smithers asks scornfully if the woman has been stealing, and she insists she hasn't. Smithers doesn't... (full context)
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Smithers suddenly asks if the emperor is still asleep, and the woman assures him that he... (full context)
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...servants are around, he shouts in irritation and threatens to beat whoever woke him up. Smithers, seeming half afraid, reveals himself to Jones and admits that he whistled, but explains that... (full context)
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Smithers asks Jones if he noticed anything funny earlier, and Jones declares that nothing is amiss.... (full context)
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Jones scoffs at the mention of Smithers’ job, and Smithers, enraged, reminds Jones that he helped him when Jones first came to... (full context)
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Smithers reminds Jones that nobody else would hire him when they found out that Jones had... (full context)
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Smithers asks Jones if he has money hidden somewhere safe, and Jones shares that his money... (full context)
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Smithers cautiously points out that Jones has been doing the same sort of thing with taxes,... (full context)
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Admiringly, Smithers agrees that Jones successfully tricked the natives. He's never seen anyone with such luck. Jones... (full context)
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Jones says that he's smart and he thinks quickly, which isn't luck. Smithers points out that the natives will never be able to obtain silver bullets, and it... (full context)
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Smithers sniffs, and Jones suggests that "talkin' big" is what makes a man powerful, assuming he... (full context)
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Smithers blushes and changes the subject. He asks Jones if the rumors are true that he... (full context)
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Astonished, Smithers asks again if Jones actually had a silver bullet made. Jones pulls out his revolver,... (full context)
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Smithers venomously makes fun of Jones having a good luck charm, but says that he'll need... (full context)
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Smithers expresses disbelief, and Jones sharply asks Smithers if he thinks that Jones is a liar.... (full context)
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Trying desperately to laugh off this threat, Smithers insists that he was only joking, and reminds Jones that he said himself he's never... (full context)
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Terrified, Smithers reminds Jones that he's always been a friend, and Jones relaxes and tells Smithers he... (full context)
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Jones is confused, and asks Smithers to elaborate. Smithers asks Jones if he's noticed that none of his guards or servants... (full context)
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Enraged, Jones throws the bell and yells obscenities about the natives. He notices Smithers again and composes himself, laughs, and says he probably became overconfident. Jones says it's time... (full context)
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Smithers cautions Jones and says that Lem, the native chief, is certainly behind the revolt. He... (full context)
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Smithers asks what'll happen if the natives do catch Jones, and Jones insists they won't. When... (full context)
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From the hills, Jones and Smithers hear a faint beating of a tom-tom. It beats at the rate of a human... (full context)
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Smithers says that the natives are also holding their "heathen" religious service, and are casting charms... (full context)
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Jones sniffs and declares that he's not scared of things like Smithers is. He says that the forest is his friend, and the natives are more than... (full context)
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Smithers laughs and says that it doesn't seem like Jones has given much thought to the... (full context)
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Smithers wishes Jones luck, and Jones insists he'll have such a head start that the natives... (full context)
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Jones walks to the main entryway and looks around, and Smithers asks if Jones is really going to go out the front. Jones insists he's not... (full context)
Scene 2
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Jones looks at the forest, and with awe he admits that Smithers was right: the forest is extremely dark. He turns away; to avoid looking at the... (full context)
Scene 8
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...native chief, approaches the trees from the clearing, accompanied by several of his soldiers and Smithers. Lem and his soldiers wear loincloths and carry guns. One of the soldiers points to... (full context)
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...they'll catch Jones. He motions to his soldiers and they crouch down in a semicircle. Smithers asks if they're going to go into the forest after Jones, and Lem repeats that... (full context)
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...soldiers to enter the forest. The forest swallows them, and the clearing is silent again. Smithers allows the silence to stand for a moment before whispering in a derisive tone that... (full context)
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Smithers thinks for a moment and reasons that the sound could very well be Jones, as... (full context)
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Snarling, Smithers asks how Lem knows that Jones is dead. Lem explains that his men have silver... (full context)
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Lem ignores this and tells Smithers that his soldiers are bringing out Jones's body now. Sure enough, the soldiers emerge from... (full context)
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Smithers mocks Jones's dead body, calling him "your majesty" and asking where his "airs" are now.... (full context)