The Emperor Jones

by

Eugene O’Neill

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The Emperor Jones: Scene 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Around one in the morning, Jones reaches a circular clearing with a large, dead stump in the middle of it. He throws himself into the clearing, looks around as though he's being hunted, and slinks to the stump. His pants are shredded, and his shoes are falling off his feet. After looking around for a moment, Jones puts his head in his hands, rocks, and moans for God. Suddenly, Jones throws himself to his knees and pleads with Jesus. He tells Jesus that he knows he's a sinner, and he knows it was wrong to kill Jeff when he realized Jeff was cheating at dice. Jones continues and says that his anger just overcame him when he killed the prison guard, and he's sorry for stealing from the natives here. He asks Jesus for forgiveness.
It's important to remember that Jones's anger (particularly when he talks about his anger in the past) stems from being at the mercy of an oppressive system that consistently demeaned him and offered him no way out. Jones is very much an example of a man who snapped under the pressure of living in such a powerless state for so long. However, as Jones begins to experience remorse about his anger and what it caused him to do, the play asserts that actions like Jones’s are an ineffective way to deal with the system in the long term (although it’s also possible that O’Neill, as a white man, is being especially emphatic about condemning black-on-white violence).
Themes
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Related Quotes
With fear in his voice, Jones asks Jesus to keep the natives away and to stop the sound of the tom-tom. Jones seems comforted by his prayer and stands, assuring himself that the Lord will save him. He sits back down on the stump and insists that he's not scared of real men, just the ghosts. Shuddering, Jones looks down at his feet and groans. As he studies his tattered shoes, Jones decides they're only making his feet hurt more. He takes off his shoes, holds them, and tells them that they were once beautiful, but mournfully says he's not looking much like an emperor anymore.
As Jones becomes more fearful and therefore more in touch with his own sense of humanity, he also begins to rely more heavily on prayers (and by extension, a god other than himself) to get him through this desperate time. His tattered shoes, as part of his uniform, signal to the reader or viewer that Jones is no longer a powerful emperor, as he's no longer dressed like one by any stretch of the imagination.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
As Jones sits and stares at his shoes, a silent crowd enters the clearing. The crowd is comprised of white people dressed in clothing from the 1850s, and all look well-off. Young Southern belles chat with the men, silently, and middle-aged plantation owners watch the auctioneer. The entire group looks unreal and stiff as they gather around the stump. After a minute, an attendant leads a group of slaves towards the stump. The attendant arranges them in a line beside Jones. The planters inspect the slaves as though they're animals, and the young men point as the belles giggle. The tom-tom continues to beat, and Jones continues to stare at his shoes.
As with the other apparitions, the fact that Jones doesn't notice that all of this is going on around him suggests that he is still blind to his own history. In the case of this apparition in particular, Jones's ignorance suggests that he doesn't think of the history of slavery as being something that's a part of him, even though he's likely descended from slaves. The fact that the natives (who are also likely descended from slaves) sent this apparition shows that this is indeed a part of Jones's history that he needs to recognize and come to terms with.
Themes
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
The auctioneer holds up a hand and takes his 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 looks up and notices everyone standing around him, he screams and leaps onto the block in an attempt to escape. As Jones cowers, the auctioneer points to Jones and addresses the planters, silently motioning to Jones as he talks about his strength and sturdiness. When the auctioneer opens up the bidding, the planters raise their fingers. They all seem to want to purchase Jones.
Here the play positions the act of ascending the auction block as something that's imbedded in the collective memory of African Americans. Jones's leap upwards was instinctual and a leap of self-preservation, but it's also exactly what was expected of him. This suggests that even if Jones does think of himself as separate from this history of oppression, it is truly an intrinsic part of him.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
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Desperately, Jones looks around. The look on his face changes slowly from terror to realization, and with a stutter, he asks the "white folks" why they're looking at him and what they're doing. Becoming suddenly angry, Jones bellows, "is dis an auction?" He asks if the auctioneer is selling him like before the Civil War as he pulls out his gun. The auctioneer pushes Jones off the stump and towards his purchaser, the planter. Jones glares from one to the other and declares that he'll show them that he's a freeman. He shoots first the auctioneer and then the planter in quick succession, and the forest folds in on the clearing. Jones cries with fear as he races away, and the tom-tom becomes even faster.
When the apparitions disappear as a result of Jones shooting them, the natives are essentially encouraging Jones to give in to his fear in order to make them go away. This brings him closer to his humanity by continually ratcheting up his fear and offering him ways to self-soothe, even if it's becoming evident that Jones won't be able to keep this up for much longer. He's down to his one silver bullet, and by extension, has only that one bullet to keep him attached to his conception of himself as a god.
Themes
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon