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African-American Stereotype Threat in O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920)

Mouloud Siber, Arezki KHELIFA


Our paper has tackled the issue of African American stereotype threat as it is developed in Eugene O’Neill’s play, The Emperor Jones (1920). The play explores a situation in which the protagonist’s belongingness to the African-American group is more a liability than an asset to his social achievement. This results from the negative stereotypes that his group is associated with and which have a disruptive psychological impact on Jones. In the early twentieth century nativist America, opportunities for the blacks’ social and economic elevation were scarce, and when they achieved some status, they had to undergo the whites’ oppressive stigmatisation as they suffered from the demeaning effect of their blackness and the negative stereotypes they were associated with. By making his black protagonist emperor, O’Neill advances him in society. This allows him explore the effects of Jones’s blackness and the resulting negative stereotypes on this social achievement. Ignorance, superstition and irrationality are the most important stereotypes that have a disrupting effect on Brutus Jones in the forest. In sum, the paper has borrowed the concept of stereotype threat as social psychologists Claude M. Steele and Joshua Aronson have coined it in 1995 and applied it to O’Neill’s play.

Keywords: O’Neill, African-American, Stereotype, stereotype threat, psychological predicament.

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