The Emperor Jones

by

Eugene O’Neill

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The Emperor Jones: Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jones reaches the edge of the forest as night falls. He looks around, appears satisfied that he's where he's supposed to be, and then falls to the ground in exhaustion. He talks to himself and pants that he made it just in time as he pulls out a bandana and wipes at his sweaty brow. Jones remarks that being emperor is a poor way to prepare for such a long, hot hike, but he laughs and assures himself that the worst is yet to come.
What Jones is beginning to understand is that the kind of power he experienced as emperor is a really terrible way to prepare to lose all that power and reenter the system of oppression as an oppressed man. As Jones tries to talk himself up, he also attempts to reassure himself that he won't actually have to give up his status simply because he left the site of his power (that is, the white palace).
Themes
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 is extremely dark. He turns away; to avoid looking at the forest, he speaks to his feet. Jones praises his feet as he takes off his boots and inspects them for blisters. They're only beginning to get hot, and he reminds his feet that they have a long way to go. Sitting back, Jones listens to the tom-tom and grumbles obscenities about the natives, wondering if they'll ever get sick of beating their drum. He wonders if they're starting their chase and looks back across the plain, but decides that the rapidly falling night would make them impossible to see anyway. He shakes his head and assures himself that the natives are miles behind, and there's no reason to worry.
It's worth noting that there's an inverse relationship here between what Jones can physically see and what he'll be forced to see on an emotional level. As the daylight and the forest rob him of the ability to survey his empire, the thing that shows that he has power, he instead has to look inward at himself. In doing so, Jones begins to move away from his role as emperor and is forced to look at the kind of human he is (here, one that is struggling, in pain, and believes himself inherently superior to those around him).
Themes
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Changing the subject, Jones re-laces his boots and decides he's getting nervous because he's hungry. When he finishes putting on his boots, he scans the ground, looking for a particular white stone. He spots it and crawls to it, thrilled by the prospect of food—but there's nothing under the stone. Jones reasons that he isn't quite in the right spot, and he reaches for another white stone. There's nothing under it either. Frantically, Jones scrambles around, turning over white stones without success.
In this instance, Jones's inability to locate the particular white stone (whether because he's actually in the wrong spot or because the natives are playing tricks on him) suggests that his hold on power—as symbolized by whiteness—is disappearing. Here, whiteness is everywhere, but while it once made Jones feel powerful, it now makes him utterly powerless.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Jones jumps to his feet and decides he must be in the wrong place, but he cannot figure out how he got lost when he followed the path. He almost whines as he says he's hungry and needs to eat to work up strength, and he resolves to somehow find his food. Jones remarks that it's pitch black now, and he lights a match to look around. The tempo of the tom-tom increases as Jones, bewildered, wonders where all the white stones came from, since he only remembers one. With a gasp, Jones flings the match from him, puts it out, and wonders if he's going mad: lighting a match is stupid, and will only show the natives where he is. He looks over his shoulder, his hand on his gun, and wonders again where his food is.
Again, Jones desperately wants to regain his sense of sight so that he can make sense of his world, his empire, and where he fits in it—but in the dark, all he has is his fear. The fact that Jones's memory is apparently faulty also begins to call what Jones told Smithers about his past into question, as it suggests that Jones is an unreliable narrator when it comes to speaking about himself and the things he's done.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire The Emperor Jones LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Emperor Jones PDF
As Jones scans the plain, the "little formless fears" creep out of the forest towards him. They're grub-shaped and black, about the size of a child, and have glittering eyes. Jones turns to face the forest and studies the tops of the trees for a moment before declaring that nothing looks recognizable, and the forest is strange. He asks the woods if they're trying to trick him, and the formless fears laugh at Jones mockingly. They squirm towards him as Jones looks down, notices them, and yells in terror. He leaps back and pulls out his gun, threatening to shoot.
The “little formless fears” show Jones that both fear and power can take surprising forms: even though these creatures are small and it's unclear what they'd do if they reached Jones, they still have the power to scare him and remind him that his hold on power and confidence is tenuous at best.
Themes
Power and Systemic Oppression 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 into the forest as Jones stands and listens, seeming more confident with the gun in his hand. He speaks to himself again and says that the formless fears were certainly just wild pigs who probably rooted up his food. Jones assures himself that they weren't ghosts. Suddenly, Jones exclaims that he gave his location away when he fired the gun, and it's time to enter the woods. He hesitates at the edge and then urges himself on, telling himself that there's nothing to be scared of.
As the tempo of the tom-tom increases, so does Jones's fear. Because the play links fear to being human, the gradual increase in tempo then allows the reader or viewer a way to follow Jones’s return to humanity as he journeys through the forest. Similarly, by insisting that nothing is recognizable to his eyes, Jones has no choice but to look inwards at his humanity.
Themes
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon