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The Dutchman tells the tale of Clay and Lula. Clay, a well-dressed, young African
American man is riding a NYC subway train when he is interrupted by a beautiful white woman,
Lula. Lula seemingly makes Clay uncomfortable, perhaps because she is flirtatious, or maybe
because she suggestively slices her apple. Clay’s uncomfort is also indicative of the color line.
Seeing that he is an African American male, to engage with a white woman in this way would
previously probably meant death since the races were not meant to mix. As the two engage in
conversation, we see Clay go from poised to increasingly less comfortable which speaks to his
insecurities and defensiveness.

From the beginning of the play, we are introduced to a number of symbols. Both Leroi
Jones and James Baldwin use their work to protest Christianity and examine its role in shaping
the experience of the African American male in society. For Jones, he forwards Lula as a
character who has distinct parallels to the biblical figure Eve. This is made clear by the fact that
Lula is eating an apple when she sits next to Clay. Similarly to Eve who was tempted by an
apple, Lula too has an apple and is the embodiment of temptation. Aside from representing
physical temptation, Lula can also be read as being a symbol of the American dream. Clay is
able to flirt with Lula and thus the idea of grasping the American dream, but he can never quite
grasp it. Lula propositions Clay numerous times and allows him to get close, but not quite close
enough. Eventually, Lula kills Clay which is also symbolic of the notion that the American
dream is unattainable for African Americans.

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What is most intriguing about the plot of the play, is that it deals with issues of identity

and role reversal. Jones positions a white woman as the sexual aggressor. This is worth
mentioning because for centuries, African American men have been mischaracterized as sexual
deviants who if given the chance would rape and take advantage of white women. This
stereotype was used to criminalize and justify the imprisonment of African American men after
slavery. Aside from being the sexual aggressor, Lula drives much of the story manipulating,
controlling, and trying to drive Clay over the edge. Clay on the other hand is reserved, shy, and
insecure which are usually traits reserved for women in stories. This role reversal is also
important because the characters represent their respective races.

As the train ride progresses, we get to learn about Clay and Lula. Although Lula refuses
to give Clay any information about herself, she attacks Clay’s middle class image. Lula asks
Clay, “what right do you have to be wearing a three button suit and striped tie? Your grandfather
was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard. Pretend you are free from your history” Here we see Lula
begin to toy with Clay’s insecurities which are ultimately rooted in racist stereotypes. This is also
an example of the veil. Lula sees Clay as just another face and strips him of his individuality.
Again, Lula is positioned as a symbol of the entire white America.

Lula continues to try to seduce Clay. She flirts with him and even makes mention that
maybe they could have sex after the party at her apartment. Despite this, Clay remains reserved
and though he engages with Lula, she continues to be the aggressor. After a while, we see Lula
become angry with Clay because he is not falling for her manipulation. Instead of being
flirtatious and dancing around the idea of tasting the forbidden fruit, Lula switches her approach
and becomes more antagonistic. Aside from mocking his clothing and challenging him to act as
if he is free from his history, she becomes more pronounced in her racism. She says, “I bet you
never once thought you were a black nigger”. Clay is taken aback by Lula’s statement and laughs

to fill the awkward silence but Lula doubles down and becomes increasingly more mocking and

Lula continues to mock Clay and thus trivializes the experience of the African American
man in society. After Clay denies her invitation to dance, Lula becomes upset and begins to
further mock Clay. “Come on Clay. Let’s do the thing. You middle class black bastard. Forget
your social working mother for a few seconds and let’s knock stomachs. Clay, you liver lipped
white man. You would be Christian. You ain’t no nigger. You just a dirty white man”. Here we
see Lula call into question Clay’s authenticity as an African American man. Lula, a master of
manipulation is attempting to get Clay to conform to the stereotypes of a being either over sexual
or an Uncle Tom. Clay adheres to Baldwin’s advice of resisting the urge to conform to negative
stereotypes and accept what white consider you and instead breaks into a soliloquy. Clay tells
Lula how African American music and culture are the only ways to exist in a country divided by
the color line. Without music and culture, African Americans would go crazy and perhaps begin
the war that Baldwin warned us about if the races didn’t come together. Clay, who is a
representative of the entire African American male experience credits things like dance, music,
and religion for keeping him grounded. Clay also tells Lula that if one wanted to end racism, all
he would have to do was kill and white people. Even in his fit of rage, Clay is still able to
reconcile that this is not the answer and tells Lula that although racism is a problem, he’d rather
ignore it.

Even after all of this, Lula is still not satisfied, After his monologue, Lula stabs Clay
twice in the chest, killing him. This once again speaks to the issue of the color line and the
inability for African Americans to exist within a society in which they are no longer
commodified. After Clay dies, Lula turns her attention to another passenger, a young Black man

who has just boarded the train. This speaks to the title, “The Dutchman.” The Flying Dutchman
was doomed to sail the seas forever with no hope of release from the curse of endless repetition.
In the play, the train can be seen as a symbol for the ship of the Flying Dutchman. In this case,
the Dutchman is the African American male, who no matter how hard he tries to escape the
perils of the color line, the veil, and double consciousness, is doomed to the endless repetition of
racism. This is the African American male experience in America.