Friday, March 22, 2013

Clay’s Monologue in Dutchman

We did not get to Clay’s monologue in Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman during class yesterday, so I wanted to share my initial thoughts here before we talk about it next week. I really enjoyed reading this play and Clay’s monologue in particular. There is a lot going on in Clay's speech here. This monologue marks the instance where Clay finally lets his inner frustration with Lula out into the public space of the subway car. He takes over Lula’s power and control over their interaction in this one instance. Here, Clay points out the major flaws in Lula’s character. For instance, he tells her that, “you don’t understand anything but luxury” (33). I think this line is especially important in that it evokes the broader notion of 'white privilege' and of white America's obsession with money, power, and luxury. Further, Clay calls attention to Lula’s hypocrisy here. In class, we discussed Lula’s view of Clay as a 'pretender,' or a "middle-class fake white man" trying to assimilate into white America (34). Clay argues that, in fact, Lula is the ignorant one here who lacks an understanding of black culture and of the blues. He points out that she cannot even correctly mimic the “belly-rubbing” she attempts to imitate, which is what triggers Clay’s speech to her. Clay says that she should just let him be whoever he wants to be. And, more broadly, he is saying that white people should not interfere with black expression through the arts. Clay ends his speech by saying that, if blacks were to accept the “rationalism and cold logic” of white Westerners, then they, himself included, would just murder whites so as to bring an end to racism in America once and for all (36).

Clay’s speech reminded me a lot of Baraka’s essay “The Revolutionary Theatre.” In “The Black Arts Movement,” Larry Neal helps explain Baraka’s essay and the differences between the “sterility” of white America versus the revolutionary theatre Baraka emphasizes, which focuses instead on the power of change and of the spirit. As we talked about in class, plays represent an important art form in the Black Arts Movement because they represent a social form of art that forces a kind of relationship between the actor and his or her audience. Specifically, Clay’s speech calls the reader’s attention as well as the attention of the background characters in the subway car in Dutchman, in that it creates a certain level of discomfort and shock, especially after his previously passive response to Lula. Overall, Clay’s character is vey nuanced and enigmatic to me. As the name “Clay” suggests, he represents the malleability of black masculinity in white America, black passivity, and the black struggle of assimilation. But Clay also signifies the changeable nature of the revolutionary theatre Baraka talks about. The different possible interpretations of Clay’s character create an interesting dichotomy in Dutchman.

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