Symbolism in Emperor Jones: Investing Psychoanalytical Theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung



In Eugene Gladstone O’Neill’s use of the symbols in The Emperor Jones, he acknowledged as do most modern authors, the validity of Jung’s theory that great literature strikes a responsive chord in all men buried in the unconscious mind of humanity. In Jung’s words, the secret of artistic state of participation mystique to that level of experience at which it man who lives, and not the individual and at which the or woe of the single human being does not count, but only human existence. That is why every great work of art is objective and impersonal, but none the less profoundly moves us each and all. Many of Eugene Gladstone O’Neill’s dramas were strongly influenced by the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and they stripped away people’s civilized veneers and probed their inner psyches.

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill
The pitfall for the artist, however, may lie-as in some of the later plays it does for O’Neill in his very awareness of the truth, open-eyed conscious manipulation of archetypal symbols may achieve only a strained and artificial objective- a too explanatory for the immortal and the universal wider public knowledge symbols has now become artistic platitude. The Emperor Jones (1920), which was one of the first American plays with a lead role for black actors, concerns the leader of a West Indies island whose subjects rebel, drive him into the jungle, and finally kill him. It uses expressionistic techniques such as distorting time and action to expose characters’ emotional states.




Everybody knows about Oedipus. The secret, obviously, is not in the symbol, but in the skilful adaption. In The Emperor Jones, O’ Neill achieves a dynamic synthesis of symbol and dramatic action. The focus of the play is outward but it is consistently inward, and the final revelation in the logical climax of revelation has gone before. However, as always in O’ Neill’s best plays, outward reality has the first and the last word, Brutus Jones emerges as unforgettably himself, a gigantic figure brought love to be the very force which exalted him, universal but not man, individual but not Eugene O’Neill.

Ref: Wikipedia, Microsoft Student Encarta, Literary Timelines, History of English Literature- Albert

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