Academic Essays

Shattered Glasses:
The Symbolism of the Female Gaze in Strangers on a Train

First Place
Writing Center Award

Much of Alfred Hitchcock’s work places strong emphasis on the mechanisms and implications of the act of looking, and voyeurism and scopophilia are major themes across his oeuvre. Consider, for example, Scottie's compulsion to recreate Judy in Madeleine's image in Vertigo, or Jeffries's obsession with observing the private lives of his neighbors through his binoculars in Rear Window (Wood 103). Voyeurism also plays a prominent role in Strangers on a Train, but in contrast with some of Hitchcock's other work, the most interesting voyeurs of that work are not male, but female. Throughout the film, Hitchcock develops the concept of the female gaze by connecting it with a distinctive symbolism: round glasses (Brill 81). Such glasses, as Mary Ann Doane has shown, were symbols in classical Hollywood film of an active gaze, or "even simply the fact of seeing as opposed to being seen" (qtd. in Corber 115). This symbol of seeing, of circularity, of the overt female stare, becomes a recurring visual motif throughout Strangers on a Train, and its manifestations signpost the women who possess such a gaze—whether their stare is obvious or hidden.

To understand why the concept of the female gaze and its symbols are important in Strangers on a Train, it is critical to understand their fundamental challenge to patriarchy. In her book The Women Who Knew Too Much, which considers the work of Hitchcock from a feminist perspective, Tania Modleski references Alice Jardine's ideas when she comments about the male reaction against “women who know not only too much, but anything at all” (13). Jardine states, “Man's response in both private and public to a woman who knows [anything] has most consistently been one of paranoia 1” (qtd. in Modleski 13). While the female gaze is not ostensibly a declaration of secret knowledge, it bears connotations of knowledge gathering, of surveillance for a purpose. Such open surveillance is traditionally accounted to men—"the gaze" of feminist criticism—and the open return of looking on the part of the women implies a distinct crossing of gender boundaries. As Corber puts it, in a patriarchal society women are meant to "be seen rather than to see" (117). The female voyeurs in Hitchcock's films, therefore, represent an intrinsic threat to the patriarchy, because they co-opt a tool traditionally used by men to objectify and control women.

Hitchcock establishes the circular motif of the unhidden female stare most obviously with the glasses he gives to Miriam, Guy's wife; and Barbara, the sister of Guy's love interest, both of whom are blatant in their act of watching. Of the two, Miriam is the most belligerent in her voyeurism and possession of knowledge, which becomes immediately obvious in her first appearance on camera. "You've got a nice tan," she says as she sizes Guy up through thick harlequin glasses, "Playing tennis with all of your rich friends” (Strangers2 ). Here, Miriam references the subtext of their relationship problems with seeming nonchalance; clearly, she has no interest in attempting to improve their marital situation by pretending she is unaware of Guy's political aspirations and new love interest. Miriam also makes no pretense to acting hurt or vulnerable; she knows the nature of the situation, and has no qualms about revealing such knowledge to Guy. It's also obvious that she has been watching Guy's actions closely: "Don't look so mad, Guy," she says coyly, as he begins to realize she intends to follow him to Washington; "You always smile when your picture is being taken for the papers." Since it's clear from their conversation that the two do not meet often, the implication is that Miriam has been surveying the situation from afar, and has been doing so thoroughly. Guy's obvious discomfort and anger, then, are not only from the realization that Miriam will not consent to the divorce, but from the threat of her gaze and the knowledge she has gleaned.

Barbara also wears the round glasses, the symbol of the gaze. While she is far more likable than Miriam, they are alike in the unapologetic way they both observe and comment upon situations. Barbara is forthright in all her dealings, and is not afraid to show her intelligence and mental acuity by a blunt appraisal of any situation, without regard for diplomacy. "That poor, unfortunate girl," says Senator Morton, referring to Miriam's death. "She was a tramp," says Barbara, matter-of-factly. When chastised by the Senator, who states that Miriam had as much right to life and pursuit of happiness as any other human, Barbara dismisses his idealism cooly. "From what I hear," she says, "She pursued it in all directions." She is young and unmarried—she does not yet pose a direct threat to any man—and her frank comments and knowledge of the sexual are therefore regarded with a measure of condescension by the people around her. "One doesn't always have to say what one thinks," Senator Morton says to Barbara, with seemingly equal parts fondness and fatherly exasperation. But Barbara does; her glasses are a bold visual statement of her obvious desire to see and understand the world around her. In this way, she resembles another Hitchcock character: Midge from Vertigo, who, like Barbara, also refuses to temper her frank appraisal of a situation in order to gain sexual prowess or the favor of a man.

However, while Barbara can be forgiven her gaze, it is clear that Miriam cannot. In fact, one critic describes the scene at the carnival as "excusing her murder," because it is shot almost wholly from Bruno's point of view (Corber 115). Indeed, this scene depicts Miriam's voyeurism as so transgressive that even the audience is made to feel uncomfortable. When Miriam realizes she is the object of Bruno's stare, she returns the favor; instead of looking away or removing herself from his gaze, she sensuously savors her ice cream cone and stares back. For the remainder of the sequence leading up to her death, Miriam continues to "[return] the male gaze rather than [submit] to it passively" (115). She is aware of Bruno’s stare and its implications, and appears more than ready to take part in the game he has initiated. She and Bruno therefore play out an intimate duet of looks and counter-looks, and the circular imagery of her glasses becomes more and more pervasive in the surroundings as he goes further into the world of her gaze and the scene builds to a climax. As the chase progresses, Hitchcock highlights the whirling of the merry-go-round, the plump roundness of the little boy's balloon, the incessant turning of the water wheel, and the round opening of the Tunnel of Love. Bruno shows Miriam his strength at the sledgehammer concession as he drives the marker to the very top—a round gong. He breaks the game and conquers its round symbol, just as he will later break Miriam and smash her glasses, the symbol of her overt and knowing stare. Then, as he watches her float off to what will be the site of her death, the turning ferris wheel eerily fills the frame behind him. The visual symbolism employed here by Hitchcock clearly shows the reason that Miriam deserves to die: her unapologetic gaze.

The highly expressionist mise-en-scene of Miriam's murder is the culmination of the circular imagery which Hitchcock has built into the film so far. A POV shot puts the audience inside Bruno's head as Miriam’s face fills the frame and she sees him. "Is your name Miriam?" he asks. "Why yes," she says, pleased. Bruno does not give her the chance to say anything else. As he strangles Miriam, her glasses fall to the ground and break, and the camera cuts to a close-up of the lens, where the rest of the murder is seen in its reflection. After pushing her to the ground, Bruno slowly straightens up, staring straight into the one unbroken lens and filling its round frame with his looming form. Robin Wood describes this scene as being a "sexual culmination for both killer and victim" and calls the lens of Miriam's glasses a "sexual symbol" (90). However, while this imagery can be read as sexual, it arguably has more complex meanings than Wood assigns it. Miriam's glasses are not merely the symbol of sexuality, or even of voyeurism—for, as we will see later, Ann Morton is equally voyeuristic—but of her refusal to hide her voyeurism and secret knowledge from a patriarchal society. Her glasses are the visible representation of her unapologetic gaze, and represent an implied threat to the dominance of the male. The murder scene is significant because it implies the forceful retaliation, the outward expression of Jardine's male "paranoia" (qtd. in Modleski 13). The success of Bruno and the fall of the violated glasses symbolizes the execution of Miriam's gaze; her glasses are now sightless and her death is, in essence, a blinding—the final retribution for a woman who has dared to cross gender boundaries.

But while the glasses are the most obvious representation of the female gaze, there is another telling object present at the site of the murder: Guy's lighter. While the insignia on the lighter seems to have been underemphasized in criticism of the film, it has certainly not been in the film itself; its importance is shown by repeated, fetishistic close-ups throughout, and is foregrounded in the initial dialogue between Bruno and Guy. "Bet I can guess who 'A' is," says Bruno slyly, referring to the lighter's inscription, "Ann Morton." Hitchcock pairs Bruno's statement with a close-up of the lighter itself, revealing the crossed tennis rackets and the insignia "A to G" to the audience for the first time. Later in the film, immediately after Bruno strangles Miriam, a single shot shows the glasses and lighter lying side by side next to the lifeless woman, and then a close-up of the lighter highlights its distinctive design. Hitchcock has obviously gone to great lengths to establish the presence of the lighter and reiterate its distinctive design at the scene of the murder, but why?

The presence of the lighter has often been read as an implication of Guy's guilt in Miriam's death, in conjunction with the Guy/Bruno doppelgänger theme that runs throughout the film3 . The fact that the lighter is a gift from Ann, however, has been largely passed over4 , along with the accompanying insinuations about her involvement in Guy's affairs. However, given its importance to the plot, the lighter's origin is not insignificant. After all, despite the far more flattering depiction of Ann in the film, she is arguably just as guilty as Guy for the murder of Miriam. Since she is presented as the obvious love interest and effortlessly performs the societal graces that Miriam does not have, we like her better and gladly overlook the pertinent fact that she has been carrying on a love affair with a man who is still married. The dialogue on the train indicates that Bruno's instant recognition of Guy and knowledge about his relationship with Ann is largely from gossip in the newspapers. "Sometimes," remarks Bruno,"I turn the sport page and look at the society news. And the pictures. She's very beautiful, Senator Morton's daughter." Ann and Guy's relationship, far from being a normal, socially accepted love relationship, is the stuff of scandal—the daughter of a senator seduced by a well-known, married man. Had not Guy's relationship with Ann landed him so frequently in the gossip column, Bruno would not have been as likely to recognize him on the train. The presence of her gift at the scene of the crime, therefore, is arguably just as much an implication of her guilt as Guy's.

As the film unfolds, it becomes increasingly obvious that Ann herself is far from being the decorative society female she seems on the surface; she is, in her own way, equally as voyeuristic as the other two women. Although she does not possess the brazen, sexually suggestive stare of Miriam, or the honest, frank gaze of Barbara, the camera often watches her carefully watching Guy and the events unfolding around him. Guy and Ann’s first on-camera meeting is captured with a single, high-angle shot which shows them embracing and then moving towards the parlor to meet her father. Although Ann casts down her gaze often while Guy is talking directly to her in this shot, she stares at him intently when he looks away, as if to obtain as much hidden information as possible. Then, at the party given by Senator Morton, we see a prolonged shot of Ann staring. The camera cuts to show what Ann has been staring at: Guy. Then Ann shifts her gaze, and the audience sees that she has seen Bruno, who is also watching Guy. The relay of looks is crystal clear in its implication: they are all playing a game that depends upon the close monitoring of the other players. However, although Ann is constantly watching, she seems able to make her surveillance non-threatening by hiding it in a performance of demure femininity; the men never seem as aware of her gaze as they are of Miriam's and Barbara's—Ann never makes them aware. Still, it is clear to the audience that Ann knows more than she lets on.

Ann's voyeurism and knowledge, and the success with which she hides them, are also clearly symbolized on the lighter she gives to Guy. While, on one level, the insignia seems nothing more than a reference to Guy’s occupation, on another level the side-by-side circles of the crisscrossed tennis racket design eerily echo the imagery of Miriam and Barbara's glasses—the symbol of the female gaze. This symbolism becomes starker in the image of the lighter and glasses lying side by side in the aftermath of Miriam's murder. Here, in one shot, lies the fundamental difference between Ann and Miriam/Barbara and their respective approaches to sexual politics. Ann, it seems, has her own pair of glasses, but she has hidden them. Instead of openly declaring her gaze through the outward implements of seeing, as do Miriam and Barbara, Ann has ensconced the symbol of her voyeurism and secret knowledge in the trappings of Guy's world. While Miriam and Barbara openly go against hegemonic female roles, Ann plays the object to be seen in order to increase her own ability to see. Like Vertigo’s Judy, she must attempt to gain power by portraying something she is not. Therefore, while Miriam and Barbara's overt display of the feminine gaze is a threat to patriarchy, Ann is successful at removing the threat from her knowledge by clothing it in the symbolism of Guy's own success.

The fact that Ann is able to hide the perceived threat of her voyeurism from the men, however, does not make the actual threat any less dangerous. In fact, by choosing to cloak her true knowledge, she is arguably more successful at reclaiming power than are Miriam and Barbara. She disguises her gaze so well that Guy carries her glasses with him wherever he goes, and the lighter which bears her symbolic stare is the proverbial "glue" in the Guy/Bruno power relationship. In essence, since the lighter is connected so closely with the murder, her covert stare is the very tool which dooms Miriam and embroils Guy in a dangerous game which nearly ends in his conviction for murder. And, in the end, whatever Ann's motivations for marrying Guy might be, it is difficult for us to reconcile her coolness and austerity with the prospect of a loving and warm married life. Ann's influence and gaze have already resulted in serious consequences for the lives of those around her, and her skill at performing her role of the society woman keeps Guy utterly unaware of both. While she may play the role of an asset as she decorates Guy's arm at political functions, it is clear that she has assets of her own and the mental acuity to use them. Guy cannot resist a threat that he cannot see, and Ann is remarkably good at disguising hers.

One critic, referring to Miriam’s fallen glasses, draws attention to the "motif of seeing and blindness" which runs throughout the plot of Strangers on a Train (Brill 81), and this conflict certainly seems to be a major driving force in the sexual politics which pervade the plot. As we have seen, Miriam deserves to die not so much because of what she has done, but because of who she is and what she represents: a woman who is unafraid to challenge societal norms. Miriam and Barbara’s glasses are, in essence, a declaration of their refusal to be blind. They will continue to look, and refuse to hide the fact that they have the secret knowledge which, as Modleski comments, typifies the Hitchcock female (13). Their bold gaze and refusal to play the game of sexual politics according to the rules of a patriarchal system incites the male “paranoia” that Jardine notes. Although Barbara’s future is uncertain, the shattered glasses of her double, Miriam, indicate where such a road may lead in a male-dominated society. Ann, on the other hand, finds greater success within the patriarchal system because she is able to use its implements—Guy’s lighter—to her own advantage. She is able to see precisely because she pretends to be blind. In the end, it seems that the success of all three women is not so much dependent upon whether they see—for it is clear that all three do—but whether they are able to keep patriarchy blind to the fact that they can.

1Jardine defines “paranoia” as the reinforcement of sexual boundaries.
2Hereafter, all direct character quotes refer to this film.
See, for instance, Wood's description of the lighter as Guy's "implicit consent" to Miriam's murder (98).
4Corber does note the origin of the lighter, but turns it into commentary on a homosexual connection between Guy and Bruno. Referring to the lighter's design, Corber states: ". . . [T]he markings can be interpreted to mean that Guy would consider Miriam's murder a token of Bruno's love for him ("Anthony to Guy")". He then posits that "A" stands for "Ann": "By eliminating [Miriam], Bruno would in a sense be giving Ann to Guy ("A to G") as well as making her into a guy" (113). In neither case does he give Ann anything other than a passive role in the situation.


Brill, Lesley. The Hitchcock Romance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988.

Corber, Robert J. "Hitchcock's Washington: Spectatorship, Ideology, and the 'Homosexual Menace' in Strangers on a Train." Hitchcock's America. Ed. Jonathan Freedman and Richard Mullington. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 99-121.

Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much. New York: Methuen, 1988.

Strangers on a Train. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Farley Granger, Robert Walker. Videocassette. Warner Home Video, 1983.

Wood, Robin. Hitchcock's Films Revisited. New York: Columbia UP, 1989.

Second Place
Writing Center Award

If the intention of the modernist movement was to shock society at the core, then Eugene O'Neill's expressionist play The Emperor Jones, written in 1920, was a bolt of lightning that shook the theatre world at its very foundation. It is well documented that the play was notable for being one of the first American theatre productions to cast black actors, something on which Eugene O'Neill insisted. However, many scholars and critics argue over the meaning of the title black character Brutus Jones and what truth Eugene O'Neill was trying to uncover about race issues. By examining the life of O'Neill, the expressionistic qualities of the play, and the conventions that O'Neill challenged, one can see that O'Neill was using the play as a way to prove that race is only relevant to one's given circumstance. The Emperor Jones by Eugene O'Neill challenges the 1920's American hegemonic myth of the African American man to argue that race does not determine the content of a person's character, or one's ability to learn.

To look at the overall effect of The Emperor Jones, one must first look at the zeitgeist of the American 1920's. The cultural atmosphere of the 1920's was dominated by a Jim Crow separatist attitude. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's was “operating as virtually autonomous units” and those units “ranked the dangers [to white supremacy] in some order of priority” (Miller 216). Those “dangers,” as the Klan identified them, were mostly Roman Catholics, Negroes, and Immigrants. However, because white Anglo-Saxon protestant Americans were the dominant hegemonic force of the time, the KKK's goal was to maintain white supremacy by “first, if not foremost . . . keep[ing] the black man in his place” (218). The white supremacists tried to keep African Americans working menial jobs, thus ensuring their substandard class status in comparison to the whites.

The social milieu of the day was also reflected in the American theatre. Sylvan Barnet states that “Among the stock dramatic types of the black man available to O'Neill in 1920, the chief were the Tom (faithful black retainer), the Buffoon (clownish lazy servant), the Bull (villain who wants to rape white women), and the Tragic Mulatto (hovering between two races)” (716). A black man as the main protagonist was not a common character type in the 1920's. Also, “the representation of blackness on the stage was reserved for whites in blackface” (Monks 540). When O'Neill wrote The Emperor Jones “no black person ever played a major role in the American theater in a non-musical production” (Manuel 70). O'Neill took a giant leap when he wrote The Emperor Jones because he challenged the normal stock characters and he introduced America to the capability of an African American man playing a lead role in the American theatre.

O'Neill did not intend for the main role of Brutus Jones to be played by a white man in blackface. In fact, “O'Neill strongly and successfully urged that the role be played by . . . a black actor” (Barnet et al. 716). The charge led by O'Neill to write a script with an African American man at the forefront, and for the role to be played by an African American man, was radically in opposition to the dominant white hegemonic values at the time. By writing a main role for and urging the theatre to cast an African American, O'Neill was attempting to show that race has nothing to do with one's character, or abilities as a person, and race is merely a coincidence of heredity.

One must be extremely careful in making assumptions that Eugene O'Neill was writing The Emperor Jones only in an effort to demonstrate the psyche of an African American. Carme Manuel (an Assistant Professor of English in Spain) falsely concludes that “He [Brutus Jones] does not embody any universal archetype . . . but rather the specific example of the African American at the beginning of the twentieth century” (79). Manuel's assertion is false. As Hubert H. Harrison puts it, “It is aimless to criticize this play because it 'does not elevate the Negro,' since it could have been written about any race anywhere.” The idea that O'Neill is projecting is that race is not a guaranteed marker of someone's capabilities as an individual. In fact, “In 1932, in his belated realization that The Emperor Jones should have been staged in masks, he [Eugene O'Neill] argued that masks could more honestly reflect the state of man's social interactions” (Steen 358). If the play were staged in masks, it would only further the idea that The Emperor Jones “could have been written about any race anywhere.” This evidence proves that O'Neill did not necessarily set out to paint a portrait of African American life, but rather to show that one's race is more of a mask, and one's behavior is what determines the content of his character.

To prove that race does not determine one's character, O'Neill reverses white and black stereotypes. For instance, Brutus Jones is black yet he is a hard working emperor who has learned the native language and is robbing his subjects whereas Smithers (the white man) is not the leader of the island and has not learned to speak the native language (Barnet 716). The color of Brutus Jones's or Henry Smithers's skin does not matter. What matters is their behavior and how hard they have worked to get to their current position. According to Edward L. Shaughnessy, “by the play's end Brutus Jones's blackness has become strangely irrelevant” (151). The behavior of Brutus Jones is what ultimately determines his character. Shaughnessy goes on to question “where had Brutus Jones learned the Darwinian ethic of conquest” (151). As everyone knows, Brutus Jones learned his Emperor qualities from the white business men in the Pullman car where he worked. The fact that Brutus Jones did not learn his deceptive behavior from his blackness but from the white people is another attempt by O'Neill to deconstruct the stereotypes of whites and blacks.

In the 1920's there was no definite consensus on whether African Americans had the capacity for higher learning. According to Raymond Wolters in his book The New Negro on Campus, “Many descendants of the antebellum abolitionists believed that Negro ignorance was not innate” but “Many others, especially in the southern states, believed that Negroes should be given only the rudimentary vocational training that was especially suited to the menial roles accorded to blacks” (3). The idea that race should or may dictate one's capability for higher learning was challenged by O'Neill through Brutus Jones. In the stage directions, Brutus Jones is referred to as having “eyes [that] are alive with a keen, cunning intelligence” (Barnett 719). By O'Neill's simple dictation of Jones's eyes being “keen” and showing “cunning intelligence,” O'Neill is portraying his opinion that an African American man has the capability of accomplishing something more. In that regard, O'Neill has challenged the stereotype of the black man as an individual incapable of higher learning.

As well, O'Neill reverses the white and black stereotype by Brutus's racist treatment of the islanders. Jones refers to the native islanders as “niggers” and “bush niggers” throughout the play. At one point while talking to Smithers, Jones says, “I knows I kin fool 'em—I knows it—and dat's backin' enough fo' my game” (Barnet et al. 721). The idea that a black man is racist against people of his own skin color and looks down upon people of his own skin color because he has the abilities to fool them reverses the stereotype of the black man. In essence, Brutus has taken on the stereotypical white Anglo-Saxon protestant male values. The reversal of stereotypes shows that one's skin color is not the sole determiner of one's actions.

By examining O'Neill's use of expressionism and simultaneously comparing it to the goal of expressionist drama, one can determine that O'Neill was attempting to redeem the African American male from his “otherness” within American culture. According to Carme Manuel, “Expressionist drama searches for a retrieval of human beings to redeem them from the dehumanized state in which industrialism and materialism have plunged them” (73). In The Emperor Jones Brutus plunges into dream-like expressionistic scenes to confront three crimes that he committed, as well as key events from his racial past. By examining Brutus's confrontation with his fears in nightmare dream sequences, one could say that O'Neill makes Brutus a character one should have sympathy for. O'Neill's very act of making Brutus a sympathetic character, and pulling the audience in to feel sorry for Brutus, demonstrates that O'Neill was attempting to “redeem” marginalized and dehumanized African Americans by humanizing Brutus Jones. The Emperor Jones argues that even though a man might be of a different race, he is still human.

The technical aspects of expressionism, as found in O’Neill’s stage directions of The Emperor Jones, demonstrate the inner-workings of Brutus Jones’s mind and allow the audience to be sympathetic towards Brutus. As Virginia Floyd points out in her book The Plays of Eugene O'Neill: A New Assessment, in the scenes where Brutus enters the woods, “the technical devices of expressionism—lighting, setting, sound—are used to project the Emperor's visions, to reveal his state of mind” (205). The darkness of the forest in the stage direction reflects the inner darkness of Brutus's mind. The further Brutus goes into his racial past, the faster and louder the tom-tom beat gets. As Jones moves through the expressionistic scenes of the play, he strips off his clothing until he is left with nothing more than a loin cloth. The more and more Jones is forced to confront his past, the more expressionistic the play gets. O'Neill uses the expressionist techniques in the stage directions to make the audience more sympathetic to the harsh conditions that Brutus and marginalized races in general are subject to.

Eugene O'Neill knew about marginalized races in America, considering he came from an Irish Catholic background, and O'Neill used his background to help argue that a person’s character is more based on the combination of what someone learns and their racial identity, rather than just the racial identity alone. O'Neill's father was an immigrant to the United States. This marked O'Neill as an “other” in the white Anglo-Saxon protestant society, just like African Americans. According to Shannon Steen, a scholar of O'Neill focusing on O'Neill's cross-dressing of racial identities, “For O’Neill, . . . the black body becomes a site on which the sense of alienation characteristic of modern experience is projected” (347). Brutus Jones's “otherness” can be seen as a reflection of the “otherness” that O'Neill experienced in his life. However, Jones and O'Neill differ. According to Steen:

The Emperor Jones articulates a critique of the marginalized position of both black and Irish as well. Brutus Jones's real tragedy is the liminal social position he inhabits—too black to succeed in America and too white (in terms of his oppressive policies as Emperor) to sustain his regime on the island, he is forced to confront the phantasmatic oppression of both cultures in the forest of his formless fears. Ironically, O'Neill exploited this protean quality of Irish racial identity as a vehicle for his own success. (356)

By O'Neill having the experience of being an “other,” he had some idea of what it meant to be labeled solely by race, rather than by individual merit. Through O'Neill portraying Jones as “too black to succeed in America and too white . . . to sustain his regime,” O'Neill paints a sympathetic picture of a marginalized other, of which he had firsthand experience. O'Neill's own life experience allowed him to show that one's abilities are not determined by one's race.

Overall, Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones shook American culture by humanizing a black man and then by proving that behavior is learned and not determined by one's racial background. Although the idea that behavior is not determined by race is contradicted in Jones's descent into his racial past, it is not Jones's blackness that decides his behavior. Jones's chosen behavior ultimately decides his fate, but at the same time O'Neill is redeeming the African American man by humanizing him and showing that race does not determine who Brutus Jones really is. By challenging the American hegemonic myth of the black man in the 1920's, O'Neill was able to create a work of art that argues the way a man chooses to behave ultimately decides his fate. Therefore, O'Neill was attempting to show that a person's overall character is defined by both race and the way he or she chooses to behave, but race is not the sole determiner of one's behavior or individual merit.


Barnet, Sylvan., William Burto, Lesley Ferris, and Gerald Rubkin. Types of Drama: Plays and Context. New York: Longman, 2001.

Floyd, Virginia. “The Emperor Jones.” The Plays of Eugene O'Neill. New York: Ungar, 1985. 202-10.

Harrison, Hubert H. “The Emperor Jones” Negro World (1921).

Manuel, Carme. “A Ghost in the Expressionist Jungle of O'Neill's The Emperor Jones.” African American Review. 39 (2005): 67-81.

Miller, Robert Moats. “The Ku Klux Klan.” Change and Continuity in Twentieth Century America: The 1920's. John Braeman, Robert H. Bremner, and David Brody, eds. Ohio State UP, 1968. 215-55.

Monks, Aoife. “'Genuine Negroes and Real Bloodhounds': Cross-Dressing, Eugene O'Neill, the Wooster Group, and The Emperor Jones”. Modern Drama. 48.3 (2005): 540-60.

Shaughnessy, Edward L. “O'Neill's African and Irish—Americans: Stereotypes or ‘Faithful Realism’?” The Cambridge Companion To Eugene O'Neill. Ed. Michael Manheim.Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1998. 148-63.

Steen, Shannon. “Melancholy Bodies: Racial Subjectivity and Whiteness in O'Neill's The Emperor Jones.” Theatre Journal. 52 (2000): 339-59.

Wolters, Raymond. The New Negro on Campus. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1975.

“To ――” by Percy Bysshe Shelley expresses the speaker’s intense feelings for an unknown object of affection. The object of the speaker’s affection may be a woman and the poem is describing the actions between them. The object may be the speaker’s country, England, which he strongly believes in. This poem may also be taken literally and is about nature and its natural course. In each interpretation it is clear that the love and pride that the speaker feels will not end in death but is carried on in memory.

In the first sentence, “Music, when soft voices die, / Vibrates in the memory” (1-2), the speaker proposes that even after music has ceased the sound of music can be recreated and continue by the recollection of the retained mental impression of the original experience. The word “music” can describe vocal or instrumental sounds that create a type of melody or rhythm. This particular music is composed of soft voices. A voice may be any type of vocal sound, utterance, or expression (OED). The music the speaker is describing may be the music of war or a battle cry. The voices that create the music are numerous and may be the voices of soldiers. The voices, being described specifically as “soft,” give the impression of weak or dying people. It is after these soldiers die that their music, their battle cry, their cause continues vibrating in the memory of others.

When music “vibrates” in memory, it may literally resound and be heard inside the mind or, alternatively, it may circulate in the mind and be retained in the subconscious to be remembered and replayed another time (OED). This may indicate that the cause the soldiers are fighting for will be remembered long after the battle has ended. In order for the music to become a memory, the voices that create the music must “die.” To die implies a permanent ending to the voices rather than them simply silencing momentarily. The music itself lives on in the senses while the voices succumb. The soldiers must die for the vibrations to leave a lasting legacy.

Alternatively, “music” can mean pleasure, amusement, or something gratifying (OED). Imposing this definition on the first sentence, “Music, when soft voices die, / Vibrates in the memory” (1-2), it is possible that the speaker is writing about sexual intercourse with a lover. The “soft voices” that die would be the voices of the lovers. The word “soft” means “characterized by ease and quiet enjoyment” (OED). This could possibly indicate the climax of the speaker’s lover. The voice dying would be an indication of the climax ending. “Vibration” means to shake, quiver, tremble, or a reciprocating motion of up and down (OED). The vibrations in the memory may be vibrations in the body that are a result of climaxing. The resulting feelings of these vibrations are what continue after the literal vibrations have ceased.

The second sentence, “Odours, when sweet violets sicken, / Live within the sense they quicken” (3-4), appears to involve the sense of smell. The violets being “sweet” are enjoyable, easily managed, and beloved. The odor of sickening violets exhilarates the sense and, at the same time, the scent is something that lingers in the memory. As with the sound of the music, the odor of the violets can be recalled even when no violets are present, as is indicated by “live.” The violets have become “sicken[ed]” or ill in some way, also indicating that they are or will become dead. The first and second sentences are similar in meaning, both representing sensual memory and ultimately an ending.

As with the music, the violets could be referencing the speaker’s lover. By referring to the violets as “sweet,” it implies that they were not tainted or corrupt before they became sickened (OED). The lover may have been a virgin who was deflowered and corrupted by the speaker. It is also possible that the lover was a mistress and the act was an affair. Any way it may be interpreted, the act of the speaker having sexual intercourse with his lover is not pure or divine.

The violet may also symbolize something much more than a lover. During the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of France, though he was eventually defeated at Waterloo. Supposedly, Napoleon appreciated violets very much. He would often give them to his wife. When he died, he had a locket of violets around his neck that were picked from the location of his wife’s grave, which was covered in violets. Napoleon was given the name Le Pere Violet which means “the little flower that returns with spring.” France, at that time, used the violet as their emblem (D’Cruz). The violet may symbolize Napoleon or France. The state of France at the time would be sickened. The word “sicken” can mean to “revolt or experience revulsion at something” (OED). Put together, sickening violets could represent the revolt in France that “quickened” or enlivened the people of the country. The “odours” could represent the consequences of the French Revolution that would not be soon forgotten.

In the second stanza, fallen leaves become a resting place for a rose after its death. The second quatrain begins: “Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, / Are heaped for the beloved’s bed” (5-6). The leaves of a rose usually wither and die before the petals of the rose. The rose leaves being “heaped” imply that they are built up around the base of the rose. A traditional burial would be underground. The rose was, in a sense, buried alive. The leaves fall and create a bed or monument for the rose itself. Even after the rose is dead, it leaves behind a legacy, a memory with the heaped rose petals. Alternately, the “bed” could symbolize a place of conjugal union for the speaker and his lover.

The rose, a flower that is representative of many things, has long been a symbol of England. The rose itself may directly represent England or the entire war. The rose leaves may represent the battles that were being fought over many years during the French Revolution. Each battle was a leaf and all of the battles over time gradually formed a heap. That heap represents all that the Revolution stood for and all that England was fighting for in each battle. In the end, all of the consequences both good and bad were heaped and England rested in the grave it made. The rose being dead though may represent the end of the war but not necessarily the end of England.

The final lines, “And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone, / Love itself shall slumber on” (7-8), imply that the speaker’s thoughts, like the music and the odor, will survive after death. Love is an emotional feeling that will stay with the speaker long after the act of sexual intercourse with his lover. The speaker may also be implying that his lover will physically slumber on top of him after the act of sexual intercourse is finished. Additionally, carrying over the idea of the rose representing England or the war, it would imply that the speaker is giving his thoughts on the state of the country once the war has gone. Love, meaning appreciation for one’s country will slumber on in the mind of the speaker or, if the poem is addressing an entire group of people affected by the revolution, it will live on in the social and political advances made.

The speaker stresses that there is an end or death to everything, both in nature and in life. The music, violets, rose, and the speaker’s lover all die, sicken, or end. There is no question as to if it will end but at what moment each will come to an end. Each sentence uses the word “when,” which indicates a definite, unchangeable end. With every end there seems to be a new beginning as a memory to the speaker. Each ending leaves a lesson or has a consequence that is more apparent in death or memory than it was in life. Each ending represents a new stage in the speaker’s relationship. Each end also represents a turn in the political or social atmosphere of either France or England. The end always brings a new beginning.


D’Cruz, Pinkie. “Meanings and Legends of Flowers.” 16 Jan. 2008

Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2006. Ohio State University Library, Lima, Ohio. 16 Jan.
2008. <http://dictionary.oed.com.proxy.lib.ohio-state.edu/entrance.dtl>

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “To ―― [Music, when soft voices die].” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. Vol D. New York: Norton, 2006.820.

There is an aspect of the horrifying morning of September 11, 2001, that has been the object of some controversy.  Many people jumped from the two World Trade Center towers before these buildings disintegrated into a mountain of rubble.  Were these jumpers conscious and alert, determined to take charge of their fates, or were they filled with immeasurable desperation and overcome by fear, hastily grabbing the first opportunity for escape?  The first view sublimates the victims, preserving their human dignity, supporting their decision to maintain some control of their lives.  The second, an abject view, reduces them to powerless objects controlled by the situation, stripped of their humanity.

In his novel of 9/11 Windows on the World, Frederic Beigbeder offers a description of  each of the views.  For the sublime view he describes jumpers as “rational people” (148) who thought the circumstances through and made an informed decision:  “They chose the swan dive, the vertical farewell” (148; emphasis mine). “One last manifestation of dignity: they will have chosen their end rather than waiting resignedly” (148; emphasis mine).  However, he then does a turnabout and supports the abject perspective by stating that the only possible reason for someone to jump out of a building is because “everything else is impossible” (149).  “Jumpers are people who have been pushed to the limits.  They no longer have any sense of danger” (149; emphasis mine).  He describes them as “hunted animals” (149) eager to take any way out, oblivious to the consequences.  As with Windows on the World, one or both of these views of the jumpers are integrated into a number of works on 9/11, including novels, poetry, and documentaries.

The author of Out of the Blue dedicates the first chapter of the book to describing those   that jumped, mostly from the North tower.  In this book, the reader is bombarded with graphic and shocking details of these deaths.  Richard Bernstein gives mixed signals as to his feelings regarding the victims.  In an example of the sublime view, he urges the readers to put themselves in the victims’ places, to truly think about what they may have been seeing, thinking, and feeling with a series of rhetorical questions: “Did they see their lives pass before them, or think of their loved ones, whom they had kissed good-bye an hour or two before in what seemed like the start of just another day?” (Bernstein 4).  As you read the details of what happened that day it is effortless to feel their pain, feel their fears, and think their thoughts, identifying with them, honoring their courage during those last moments.  

However, I believe most of the author’s feelings surrounding those that jumped conforms to the abject view:  “The forms, sometimes not much more than specks against the gleam of the skyscraper, tumbled downward almost undistinguishable from the chunks of debris, the airplane parts, the vapors of flaming aviation fuel that filled the air like fireworks” (Bernstein 1; emphasis mine).  This portrayal, comparing people of flesh and blood to lifeless, inanimate objects, lacks the empathetic tone that most would feel is integral in describing such a scene.  He also strips away the possibility of them choosing to jump by referring to it as a “desperate suicidal leap,” a last ditch, unconscious attempt to get out any way they could (4; emphasis mine).

In the beginning of the poem “South Tower, 96th Floor, Corner Office” John F. Sharp is portraying the victim who is trying to hold on to his dignity.  He does not want to surrender his power to the “hatred” of that day (Sharp):  “Soon the flames will touch me, push me to lean farther” (Sharp; emphasis mine).  He is fighting for the strength to be able to choose his own fate.  John F. Sharp acknowledges the threat of abjection hovering over the souls of those that jumped, yet wants to shed light on the possibility that not all of them were merely pawns in evil hands that day.  There was a combination of desperation and courage enveloping them.  Some could have given up and let fear immobilize them; some saw the chance to take control of their last moments and refused to let terror define their departure.  Supporting the sublime view, Sharp describes the difference between choosing to fly and giving up and falling helplessly.  He writes:

Past leaning is flying.
Flying is freedom;
freedom is choice.
The hatred behind me
soon will force choosing.
I hope I have the courage
to choose to fly.

The author of “Who Were You?” sharply defines the sublime view of the various couples who jumped together from the towers.  The reader will unconsciously ask himself, “Whom would I have leapt hand-in-hand into the next realm with?”  Everyone feels stronger and braver next to someone they love.  There were a select few that were fortunate enough to have that support.  They were not scrambling frantically, thinking only of themselves and the way out. They were not delusional, hoping for a miracle.  They were lucid and their actions were their last chance to seal their bond for all eternity.  Elizabeth Turner writes:

A man and a woman, years married,
Trusting each other
Facing life together
One last time?

As another example of people stealing their destiny back from the evil in the world, they found solace and comfort in their last moments, not dying alone:

Strangers, meeting at the window
One thought in your frightened eyes
Reaching out - touching,
As your last human act.

Can people lose all sense of rationality in an extremely traumatic, life-threatening situation?  Sure, it happens quite frequently.  However, I’m not sure that the thought of falling 110 stories could possibly look like an appealing option.  That is, of course, unless you’ve weighed your choices and decided to take some of your power back and lessen your suffering.  I believe in the strength of the human spirit.  I believe those people, faced with the certainty of death, did not want their lives to end slowly in an agonizing inferno.  They rationally accepted their fates and took control in one liberating leap.  I agree with Sharp when he writes, “Flying is freedom.”  The people who weren’t thinking rationally were the ones who allowed themselves to remain helpless, imprisoned in the building, just waiting to die.  The ones who jumped were not cowards or people who had lost their senses; they were just another example of the many people whose courage shone through the fear that day.

William Wordsworth’s “Surprised by joy” is a very sorrowful poem battling through the stages of grief. Though composed four years after her death, Wordsworth credits his deceased, four-year old daughter, Catherine Wordsworth, with the idea of this poem. The context of the poem is a speaker who has forgotten a deceased loved. Forgetting that his loved one is dead even for a moment causes a pain equal to the day the person had passed.

Wordsworth opens his poem with the line “Surprised by joy” (1), which has now also become the poem’s title. During the time which this poem was composed the word “surprise” was known as an unexpected attack, often affiliated with war. “Joy,” even in 1815, was still an intense emotion of pleasure, or ecstasy. So the fact that the speaker is attacked or even ambushed by this feeling of gladness is odd and seemingly uncommon because this means that the speaker was not expecting to feel happy, as if it had been a while since he had felt this way. The speaker has been sulking for some time.

The poem continues with a strong simile that is also somewhat metaphoric: “impatient as the Wind / I turned to share the transport” (1-2). Obviously the speaker is comparing his turning around with the impatience of the wind. This is important because this is actually a very detailed description. This narration is telling the reader that this wind is harsh; blowing fast and hard, it’s not comforting. There is a special emphasis on “Wind”: by capitalizing “Wind” Wordsworth is personifying the wind and equalizing it with God. So though the simile is comparing “impatient” to “Wind,” “Wind” is also a metaphor for God. “Wind” is a strong force from nature and nature is the closest to God. This then brings a new perspective to these literary devices because the speaker is also saying that God is impatient. God has taken a loved one from the speaker before the speaker was ready for this person to leave, so there is a definite implication that God was acting hastily in taking this person’s life too soon.

“Share” has a vast variety of meanings. There is “to share” as to allow another to partake (in a transport for example). “Share” can also refer to the groin area. However “share” is also defined as the iron blades on a plough that cut through dirt (www.oed.com). A valid argument could be made that the persona only wanted to also be able to partake in this transport, but this interpretation cannot be supported throughout the entire poem. Though there is likely some ambiguity in this word, the best fitting is that the persona is referring to the iron blades of a plow. A transport is not only a fit of joy but also a conveyance. The “surprise” of “joy” not only brought the speaker to a new place mentally, but this joy also overcame him by cutting through his sorrow, which is what took him to this new position of ecstasy. This newfound joy overcame him and cut through his sorrows from his past. Also, with the word “transport” there is also a play on words. Wordsworth uses the word “wind” to compare how the speaker turned to share in this transport. But items can be transported by or in the wind. Litter, debris, leaves, weather, and even emotions come and go with the wind. So there is a definite pun when the speaker uses the words “wind” and “transport” in the same sentence.

After the word “transport” the sentence is broken with a dash. The dash shows the speaker’s break in his train of thought. The sentence continues with “Oh! With whom / But thee, deep buried in the silent tomb, / That spot which no vicissitude can find?” (2-4). The first part of this the speaker is expressing his feelings for this dead person, how the speaker wishes to share the transport with his lost loved one. The speaker is still full of sorrow, unable to forget this lost loved one. The line continues with “deep buried” as opposed to “buried deep” which, at least in present day times, would be more normal to say. This odd word choice creates emphasis on this pair of words. It is obvious that the speaker’s dialog is concerning a dead person’s grave; however, “deep” has a vast number of meanings which include extending far downward, and also hard to comprehend. To bury someone is to place them in their grave, which is where this dead person is. In a literal sense the grave site obviously extends far downward in the ground; however, this is also hard for the speaker to understand. The speaker knows that this person is dead as well as far away in the grave; this is what brings the speaker this lament, but what is difficult for the speaker to understand is why the person is dead and gone. The speaker says “deep buried” instead of “buried deep” not only to place an emphasis on how far away this lost loved one is now, but also to display his sorrow and confusion with the whole matter.

Line three ends with “the silent tomb” (3). The speaker is referring back to the dead person that he wishes to share this transport with. It is quite clear that tombs are silent. A tomb cannot speak nor can the dead which occupy tombs. This is to stress the fact that this person that the speaker misses is dead and gone, thus is therefore silent. However, this line also personifies the tomb. It is almost saying that the tomb could speak; however it chooses to remain silent. This first sentence ends: “that spot which no vicissitude can find?” (4). The silence of the tomb is what is keeping vicissitude from locating the tomb and the person who lies inside it. Vicissitude is a change or mutability, simply put, but also vicissitude by mere circumstance would never be able to find the tomb. The tomb cannot change because death is permanent. The tomb is silent because tombs do not speak, nor do the dead who lie inside of them. When the speaker says that no vicissitude can find this silent tomb, the speaker is merely coming to terms with the death. Nothing can change it or take it back, not even sulking in sorrow for the dead person. There is no undoing it. This is also what contributes to the speaker’s above mentioned confusion. Life is full of changes and inconsistencies. In fact, the only thing that does not change in life is change itself.

Line five begins the next sentence: “Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind- / But how could I forget thee?” (5-6). Here the speaker says that love “recalled” the dead person to his mind; “recalled” is in the past tense meaning that at some point in time he had forgotten this person. There is repetition with the word “love” not only for emphasis but also as a clarification or definition. It wasn’t just any kind of love, it was a faithful love. It is a love that is consistent, pure, and full of faith. But again, a dash separates the sentence because the speaker is confused and feeling a little guilty. Though it was a “faithful love” that triggered the speaker’s memory, the speaker still questions how he could have ever forgotten this dead person to begin with. Here is where the speaker begins to embrace the joy which had earlier surprised him.

The third sentence continues with this internal conflict: “Through what power, / Even for the least division of an hour, / Have I been so beguiled as to be blind / to my most grievous loss!” (6-9). The speaker questions what power, be it person or thing, had come over him. He was beguiled; he was deceived or tricked into forgetting his loved one and being happy even for a mere moment. His forgetting was not his fault is what the speaker in testifying to. By using the word “power” there is an implication that his forgetting was out of his control, so out of his control that he cannot even identify what or who this power was. This implication also continues with the word “blind.” Blind is not just being sightless. More specifically blind is anything that obstructs light as well. The speaker is implying that this power was so great that it had barricaded his sight and what he was doing; he did not mean to be joyful or to forget his loved one. This power blocked this suppressed memory of this dead person and the speaker’s ability to realize how deep a loss it was, even for the slightest moment. In line eight Wordsworth uses an alliteration of the letter “b.” This creates emphasis on “beguiled” and “blind” and the relationship between the two. The speaker is taking the blame of forgetting off of himself for his sadness and his forgetting the person in the tomb.

The dash in line nine commences the last sentence of the poem, which is the most significant and most difficult to understand. Wordsworth chooses powerful words to explain in detail the speaker’s pain of forgetting his loved one. Because the speaker forgets even for the slightest moment, he was then forced to come to terms again with the fact that this person has passed. Other than hearing of this person dying, this was the worst pain the speaker had ever felt, realizing that this person was never coming back. The speaker describes the pain as “the worst pang that sorrow ever bore” (10). A “pang” is a pain so sharp that it is almost a spasm. But to fully understand this line it is important to identify which definition of “bore” the speaker means to use. “Bore” can mean not interested (bored to tears, for example) but this is a more modern definition, because since this is a pain that sorrow had bore the most appropriate definition would be a hole made by boring, or to pierce or penetrate through (www.oed.com). This is the very worst pain that mourning had ever augured into any person. He is saying that the pain of that memory was not just merely painful, but that it was the very worst, nearly paralyzing pain that sorrow could have ever bestowed upon him. This was not just emotional: the pain became physical and pierced through him. The speaker finally sees that neither now nor in the future will he ever see this dead person’s face more than in memories.

Lines ten and eleven continue to say, “Save one, only one, when I stood forlorn / Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more” (10-11). The speaker is requesting that he can keep (at least) one memory as he stands in the midst of this situation realizing that this person he loves is dead and will not return. He continues with his revelation into lines thirteen and fourteen, “That neither present time, nor years unborn / Could to my sight that heavenly face restore” (13-14). The speaker is accepting the fact that not nothing can bring this person back to the speaker. The speaker will never be able to see his loved one’s face in person again, only in memory.

At a first glance of William Wordsworth’s “Surprised by joy” a reader may see a connection between God and Christ, and the speaker. In line one, “joy” is part of the trinity of faith (hope, joy and faith) and as above mentioned, by capitalizing “Wind” there is a direct connection as well as a personification of God. Of course “tomb” (3) refers to Jesus in the tomb and “faithful” (5) also refers back to Jesus. The questioning of power in line six is a reflection of God’s power. “Bore” (10) refers back to wounds inflicted on Christ during the crucifixion; nails were bored through his wrists and feet; a spear was pierced through his side. “Save” (11) reflects a person’s state of spiritual welfare as does “forlorn” (11). “Sight” (14) refers again to Jesus healing the blind and enabling them to see again; “blind” can also refer to being blind to Christianity (to Christ and his existence.) “Heavenly” (14) obviously is a reverence to heaven. Though an argument could justifiably be made that Wordsworth’s poem is a person’s quest to discover God and Christianity, there are many holes in this idea. Of course the above evidentiary words were chosen by Wordsworth on purpose so there is a degree of ambiguity. Though there is a measure of finding God in this poem, the larger, more thorough idea is that there is a combination of not only is the speaker discovering God, but he is also battling through various stages of grief.

Deaths are sad and often times traumatic for the survivors left behind. William Wordsworth’s “Surprised by joy” is a poem written on one man’s battle through his stages of grief. Though it is not entirely clear, Wordsworth was perhaps writing on his own experiences with grief. Though composed four years after her death, Wordsworth credits his deceased, four-year old daughter, Catherine Wordsworth, with the idea of this poem.