The Emperor Jones

by

Eugene O’Neill

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

The Emperor Jones: Scene 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At five in the morning, Jones, still wailing rhythmically as he did in the previous scene, stumbles into another open clearing, this time by a river. Next to the river, there's a structure of boulders that looks like an altar. Jones has a stony, obsessed look on his face, and he moves as though he's in a trance. He takes in his surroundings and looks vaguely puzzled before sinking to his knees in a devotional pose next to the altar.
Remember Jones's earlier disdain for the local religion. When he kneels in front of the altar here, it suggests that the local religion (or a religion from his pre-slavery ancestors in Africa) is another thing that is part of Jones's history and memory, because the native people are also black and descended from African slaves—even if Jones thinks of them as being lesser than he is.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory 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 that he feels as though this place is familiar. He admits that he's scared, and asks God to protect him. Jones crawls away from the altar and cowers on the ground, crying hysterically. The witch doctor appears from behind a tree, bearing a bone rattle and a "charm stick."
Now that Jones's grasp on his own divinity is tenuous at best, he must turn to other belief systems to find the help and the comfort that he so desperately desires. Because it appears that Christianity is not going to serve him, while the local religion is interacting with him whether he likes it or not, the play asserts that religion and godliness aren't things that humans can truly control according to their own whims.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The witch doctor silently surveys the clearing, positions himself between Jones and the altar, and begins to dance and chant. As he does, the tom-tom becomes extremely loud, and the witch doctor matches his movements to the tom-tom's beat. Jones jumps to his feet before sinking back down to his knees. With a look of fascination on his face, Jones watches the witch doctor's dance.
Again, Jones's transfixion comes from the unpredictable, uncontrollable nature of this religion—especially when Jones has spent the last two years essentially mocking it (though it’s unclear if the witch doctor comes from the Caribbean tribe’s religion or a religion of pre-slavery Africa, or a conglomeration of both). Now, he must pay for his transgression by submitting to this figure.
Themes
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
The witch doctor appears to dance a story of a deity demanding a sacrifice. He mimes being pursued by devils, chasing them off, and then being pursued 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 time. Jones sways as the witch doctor howls in despair and mimes that the evil forces are demanding a sacrifice and must be appeased.
The witch doctor's dance very much mimics Jones's journey through the woods, which offers an additional explanation for why Jones cannot help but watch: even now, he's still self-centered. When the dance demands a sacrifice, it foreshadows that Jones isn't going to make it through this night, and will have to pay for foolishly elevating himself to the level of a god.
Themes
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
Get the entire The Emperor Jones LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Emperor Jones PDF
The witch doctor 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 sacrifice. Jones puts his forehead on the ground and moans again for God to have mercy on him.
At this point, Jones is entirely powerless and at the mercy of others. His powerlessness and his inability to fight back is indicative of the power of the system the natives have created (or ancient religious systems in Africa), which in turn puts Jones back in touch with the systems of power that subjugated black people in the US.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
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 to something in it. The witch doctor slowly steps backwards as a crocodile with glittering eyes appears over the edge of the bank. The crocodile looks at Jones, and Jones returns its stare with fascination. The witch doctor motions for Jones to approach the crocodile, and Jones belly crawls closer to it. He continues to ask God for protection and mercy.
Jones is very close to fully giving up his sense of his own godliness, particularly since he seems to have no power to resist the witch doctor's instructions. Again, this is mostly because Jones is currently overcome by fear, which returns to him a more human state. Pleading with God shows too that Jones is at a very humble point right now.
Themes
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
The crocodile crawls further out 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 reaches for his gun. He shouts that his silver bullet will keep the crocodile from getting him, and he shoots the crocodile between the eyes. The crocodile slinks backwards into the river, and the witch doctor jumps away into the forest. Jones lies facedown in the clearing, crying with fear. The tom-tom seems even fiercer and more powerful as it again picks up its tempo.
Because the crocodile is conceptualized as a god and as a symbol for Jones himself, shooting the crocodile is an action that destroys both the vision and Jones's divinity. This is supported by the fact that Jones is now too scared to continue running; any sense of self-preservation or belief that he'll make it through (beliefs that were rooted in his sense of superiority) are now absent.
Themes
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon