Emperor Jones is a fascinating exploration of the mental decline of the self-imposed emperor of a small Caribbean island. Brutus Jones is a former Pullman porter and convict who has escaped to an island in the West Indies and, over the course of two years, has made himself the emperor of this small native kingdom. Jones established control after he missed a gunshot from one of the natives and subsequently informed them that only a rare silver bullet could kill him. However, after Jones imposes a series of heavy taxes on the island natives, a rebellion is the forming and island’s inhabitants call on the demons of the forests to help them get rid of Jones once and for all. Fleeing through the jungle, we hear Jones’ story in hallucinatory flashbacks as his mental health steadily declines. He believes he can see the man he was jailed for killing, as well as the prison officer he smashed over the head with a shovel in order to escape. His breakdown is also reflected in his appearance, becoming more and more bedraggled and unclothed as he attempts to escape from the vengeful natives. With the growing, threatening beat of the tom tom drum, Jones finally loses control and is shot dead by the elusive silver bullet.
Editor’s Note: This play was written, and is set, in the 1920s. Its language, use of slang, and turns of phrase (many of which are not commonly accepted today) are consistent with its historical and cultural context. It has been written in deliberate negro, caribbean, and cockney dialects which should be followed for authenticity.
The Emperor Jones guide sections