The Emperor Jones

by

Eugene O’Neill

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The Emperor Jones: Scene 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By nine that night, the moon is up, and it casts an eerie glow on a clearing in the forest. The tom-tom beats in the distance. As the moon rises higher, 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 voice that's obviously trying to disguise his fear, notes that the moon is up now. He tells himself to cheer up as he wipes his sweaty face and picks at his torn uniform. Jones wonders what time it is, but decides to not light a match to check his watch.
As Jones's uniform tears, it shows how the façade or performance of being emperor is beginning to similarly come undone. The fact that Jones doesn't notice Jeff at first shows how self-centered Jones has become. He's so caught up in his own misery and impending downfall that he's entirely unaware that there's another being nearby—a consequence of his inflated sense of superiority.
Themes
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 himself as "yo' Majesty," and then laughs at how silly that sounds given the circumstances. He tries to cheer himself up and declares that this is all part of the game, and he'll soon emerge safe and rich on the other side of the woods. Jones begins to whistle a tune, but stops quickly, afraid it'll give him away. He pauses to listen for the tom-tom and remarks that it sounds like it's getting closer. Jones decides it's time to move fast.
When Jones laughs about "yo' Majesty," he shows that he understands that his power was very much contingent on location and context: his emperorship was rooted in his palace, and the power won't follow him. This shows that some parts of a person's history are rooted in a particular place, though the logic of the play suggests it's things more like Jones's "undeserved" power as a black man that work in this way.
Themes
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As Jones fully enters the clearing, he notices the clicking sound of the dice. He remarks with fear in his voice that it sounds like someone shooting crap (a dice game), and decides he needs to leave right away. Quickly, Jones begins to cross the clearing, but stops with a gasp when he notices Jeff. Jones moves towards Jeff, transfixed at the sight of his mechanical motions, and with relief remarks that he's glad to see Jeff. He tells Jeff that "they" said that Jeff died from Jones's razor cuts, and suddenly stops. With a wild look in his eyes, Jones asks how Jeff ended up in the forest. Jeff continues to pay no notice to Jones.
Jones's relief at seeing Jeff indicates that he does feel some empathy for Jeff, or remorse for hurting him like he did. This is evidence that Jones's humanity does exist—it's just been buried. Meeting this ghost of Jeff playing crap also tells the reader that Jones's possibly true, possibly false story to Smithers about his time in the states was true, which in turn means that Jones also spent time in jail and killed a white guard. His history is returning to haunt him.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Jones keeps watching Jeff roll the dice, his fear mounting. He stutters and asks Jeff if he'll look up, and then asks Jeff if he's a ghost. With a mixture of rage and terror, Jones pulls out his revolver and shoots at Jeff. When the smoke clears, Jeff is gone. Jones stands and watches for a moment, and seems reassured. He tells himself that ghost or not, the bullet got rid of Jeff. Jones looks over his shoulder with a start as he notices that the tom-tom is getting louder and faster. He laments his foolishness for shooting and giving himself away, and he plunges into the shadows of the forest.
Jones's rage comes from being reminded that his attempt to escape his past by relocating to the Caribbean was ineffective. While Jones's reign as emperor was confined to a particular time and place, the fact that Jones murdered a man is something that he'll have to live with for the rest of his life, no matter his location or level of power. Accepting that is the way that Jones will accept his humanity.
Themes
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
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