Essay On An Analysis Of “Black Art” And “Dutchman” By Amiri Baraka
In the 1960’s, social change was afoot. There were struggles for civil rights and civil liberties. Revolutions were being televised, inequality was not being tolerated and social injustices were being loudly protested. Writers, like Amiri Baraka, were at the forefront of expressing their thoughts and opinions of the era through their writing. It can be said that the works by Amiri Baraka and the man himself was the spark that ignited the Black Arts Movement. For the purposes of this paper we will examine the themes of social change, race relations, and assimilation, which are featured in the works of “Black Art” and “Dutchman” by Amiri Baraka.
“Poems are bullshit unless they are / teeth or trees or lemons piled / on a step” (1-3). Despite the sharp language Amiri Baraka’s poem “Black Art” is in essence painting a violent picture with words of what poems should really be. To him poems should tell a bold and solid truth no matter how ugly that truth might be. Poems shouldn’t be pretty in an era where everything going on the news is ugly. Poems should tell the real story about the world we live in and not gloss over it in flowery detail. Because the 1960’s were a tumultuous decade, one can imagine this “assassin poem” (20) as a political gun aimed at so-called enemies of the Black Nationalist Movement that Baraka himself was a part of. Readers may have mixed emotions about the language and violence depicted in this poem. Is it necessary to get the message across? In some opinions, the violence in this poem is a direct reflection of the rampant violence that occurred between Blacks and Whites during this time period.
Although the language is less violent, Amiri Baraka’s “Dutchman” offers the same political context of “Black Art.” There is a problem with race relations in America. Through intense imagery and dialogue Baraka is able to point out the insecurities a young Black man has growing up in America, as well as the relationship between Blacks and Whites during the era. His main character, a young Black male named Clay, is riding the subway when he encounters a young White female named Lula. With her many apples, maybe she can be likened to Eve. With her seductive ways, maybe she can be compared with a temptress. Either way it is clear that she has dominated the conversation and goes on to exploit Clay’s own insecurities. Her oppressive comments and his resulting violent reaction can be summed up in a nutshell as Lula accuses Clay of being a part of a “tradition” he “ought to feel oppressed by.” Lula’s increasing aggression and racial taunts throughout the play result in Clay erupting in violence. He slaps Lula across the face and follows up with a monologue about how he could be the stereotypical Black man. He also accuses Lula of being the type of woman who can sleep with a Black man and afterwards presume to be an expert on the entire race. Having been in an interracial relationship at the time, Baraka may have been pulling from his own feelings and experiences in a time period where such relationships were still largely frowned upon.
One common thread between both works is the theme of assimilation. At the time of the Black Arts and Civil Rights movements, Black people felt that in order to survive in America they needed to assimilate. They wanted to blend into the crowd as opposed to standing out in the light. In “Dutchman” Clay recognizes this in Lula’s taunts and puts it into words in his monologue at the end of the play. He claims that if he is pretending to be a “middle class fake white man”, then leave him to be what he is. While “Black Art” suggests that there was no need for any Black person to assimilate, “Dutchman” suggests that assimilation is needed in order for Black people to survive. Instead of becoming part of the herd “Black Art” encourages Black people to “understand / that they are the lovers and the sons / of warriors and sons” (45-47). If they understand this, then they can understand their own power and stand on their own two feet. In “Dutchman”, Clay points out that he can be a part of society’s stereotype or he can be considered an “Uncle Tom.” It appears that he is in a constant struggle with his identity.
Thought provoking works such as “Black Art” and “Dutchman” by Amiri Baraka give readers an opportunity to have conversations. These works may reach out to audiences in either a negative or positive way. Whether or not they agree with the language used, “Black Art” provides readers with food for thought. Is this type of lyrical aggression relevant by today’s standards? Is it necessary to paint such a violent picture in order for a race to be progressive? Do plays like “Dutchman” allow people to have the necessary conversations needed to improve race relations? Are there still people today that feel the need to assimilate into other cultures in order to survive? These are only some of the questions that are raised when reading these works. One hopes that in reading these plays and having conversations with others that an understanding develops of not only the author, but of the works as well. All in all, Baraka has definitely put forth works to inspire intelligent conversations about social change and race relations.
Baraka, Amiri. “Black Art.” ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary & Artistic African
American Themes. BCP Digital Printing. Web. 18 Feb 2015.
---. “Dutchman.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature Vol. 2 3rd ed.
Eds. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Valerie A, Smith, et al. New York: W. W. Norton
& Company, 2014. Print.
Levi, Amiel. "Dutchman by Amiri Baraka." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 09
Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
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