Language In Amiri Baraka's The Dutchman

2053 words - 8 pages

Language in Amiri Baraka's The Dutchman

The popular saying "actions speak louder than words" is upended in Amiri Baraka's play, The Dutchman, where words, or in this case language, speaks louder than the actions of the characters, Lula and Clay. Language governs the characters and their actions, and is therefore a prominent feature in shaping the identities of Lula and Clay. In the play, Baraka conveys the significance of Lula and Clay being enabled to change their identities by a simple change in the type of language they employ. Though it may seem that the characters have dominion over the language and can shape their own identities by a simple change in the language they utilize, through repetition of the concurring motifs of lying, myths, pretending to be someone else, and diction, Baraka conveys the idea that language superintends the characters' actions and identities, and is used as an escape from reality for Lula, a white woman, and as a means of survival for Clay, a black man.

How language shapes the identity of the characters Lula and Clay is prominent in the repeating theme of lying in the play. Lula claims that she "lie[s] all the time" (27). By lying, she is trying to shape an identity for herself. But what she fails to realize is that instead of her lies putting her in control of creating an identity for herself, the language she employs by lying forms her identity. Therefore the language of lies, as an outside force, is the shaper of her identity, and not the fact that she chooses to lie. Because Lula is constantly lying throughout the play, she becomes a static character. Her identity as a static character is therefore once again shaped by the fact that she lies all the time. By lying Lula tries to bring the world around to her understanding, "it helps [her] control the world" (9), just as she wishes to control Clay. She uses lies to make Clay feel that she knows him and has control over his life. Therefore the lies become a form of control that Lula has over Clay, and white people have over black people. What Lula fails to comprehend is that by lying she doesn't control the world and her identity in society, but the world starts to control her and her identity in the social structure. Clay, like Lula, is also caught in this trap of lies because of the fact that he is black. Clay argues that "[people] don't know anything except what's there for [them] to see. An act. Lies. Device. Not the pure heart, the pumping black heart" (34). He is living a lie; his whole identity as a black person as perceived by outsiders is a lie. Even though he chooses this fake façade of a white man instead of murdering white people, the language of lies once again shapes his identity as a fake white man. Lula also tells Clay that by telling her he loves her is "the only kind of thing [he] will lie about. Especially if [he] think[s] it'll keep [her] alive" (27). What Lula implies here is that if Clay doesn't lie...

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