The Emperor Jones

by

Eugene O’Neill

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The Color White Symbol Analysis

The Color White Symbol Icon

Given the racial tensions at work in the play, the color white—describing both people and objects—is a symbol of power. The white people that Jones encounters, including both the living (Smithers) and the unreal (the auctioneer and the prison guard), have very real power in the play because of the color of their skin, while Jones is considered less powerful because he's black. In this way, Jones's decoration of the throne room in his palace is a very conscious choice. By painting the walls stark white, Jones attempts to take on some of the power that the play suggests is inherent to whiteness, and he loses his power once he vacates his palace. Unlike white people, whose power is embedded in their skin, Jones's power came from outside sources that he couldn't take with him in his flight.

The Color White Quotes in The Emperor Jones

The The Emperor Jones quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Color White. 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

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:

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:

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:

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 2 Quotes

How come all dese white stones come heah when I only remembers one? Nigger, is you crazy mad? Is you lightin' matches to show dem whar you is? Fo' Lawd's sake, use yo' haid.

Related Characters: Brutus Jones (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Color White
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Emperor Jones LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Emperor Jones PDF

The Color White Symbol Timeline in The Emperor Jones

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Color White 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
The play opens onto the emperor's throne room. The walls and floor are white, and a wooden throne with red and orange pillows sits in the middle of the... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...big stealing gets a person crowned emperor. He shares that he learned this listening to white passengers on the trains, and now that he's had the chance to steal big, he's... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
...thinks that Jones is a liar. Quickly, Smithers brings up Jones's lies that he killed white men in the states. Jones angrily asks why those are lies, and Smithers insists that... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...enough to know their own names, let alone catch Brutus Jones. He says that the white men chased him with bloodhounds in the states, and he just laughed—and it will be... (full context)
Scene 2
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Scene 4
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
...coast and be safe by morning, a silent, chained procession of black convicts enters. A white prison guard with a whip and a rifle supervises them. When the guard signals, the... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...gun in a sudden rage. He yells that he'll kill the guard, calling him a "white devil," and shoots the guard in the back. As he fires, the forest closes in... (full context)
Scene 5
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)