The Emperor Jones


Eugene O’Neill

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The Emperor Jones Themes

Themes and Colors
Racism Theme Icon
History and Collective Memory Theme Icon
Power and Systemic Oppression Theme Icon
Godliness, Humanity, and Fear Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Emperor Jones, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


The Emperor Jones tells the story of Brutus Jones, a porter on a train car who, after killing a black man and then a white prison guard in the United States, escapes to a Caribbean island. On the island, he quickly sets up an empire, with himself as emperor. He amasses vast wealth by levying heavy taxes on the black natives and by engaging in various forms of corruption. When he learns from a…

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History and Collective Memory

As Jones runs into the forest to escape the rebelling natives, he encounters apparitions summoned by the natives that force him to confront his history, both on a personal level and on a much grander scale. By forcing Jones to watch and experience his past and a condensed history of the black slave experience over the previous 200 years, the play asserts that it's impossible for a black person to truly escape the legacy of…

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Power and Systemic Oppression

The Emperor Jones takes place in the time period in which it was written (late 1910s, possibly into the early 1920s), and it's very important to consider the play in the context of its time. As an African American and a Pullman porter, Jones would have been subjected to Jim Crow laws and other forms of systemic oppression that reminded him daily that he was black and therefore powerless. The Emperor Jones, then, explores…

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Godliness, Humanity, and Fear

When Brutus Jones crowns himself emperor of the Caribbean island, he elevates himself to the level of a god. His subjects are forced to worship and serve him without question, and he conceptualizes himself as far superior to them in every way. As a final touch, Jones plays into the natives' superstitions by telling them that he can only be killed by a silver bullet. However, after the natives revolt against him and Jones…

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