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Mulatto: A Play of the Deep South (1930) by Langston Hughes

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1 Mulatto: A Play of the Deep South (1930) by Langston Hughes
Part I of II

2 Lynching: Historical and Theatrical Precedents for Mulatto
In Abraham's Bosom is a play by American dramatist Paul Green. Its original Broadway run starred Charles Gilpin as an African-American farmer from North Carolina whose efforts at self-improvement are thwarted by segregation and a lynching that is figured as inevitable. Though most audiences felt the play to be progressive, many of the young writers associated with the New Negro Movement and/or the Harlem Renaissance felt that Green’s characters were little more than “darky” stereotypes, especially in its representation of an inarticulate mother and her equally inarticulate mulatto son (Hughes’s Cora and Robert’s eloquence stand in stark opposition to their “counterparts” in Green’s lynching play). Green received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work in 1927.

3 The Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. August 7, 1930.
Lynching: Historical and Literary Precedents for Mulatto Strange Fruit: Georgia and Lynching Between 1882 and 1930 the American South experienced an epidemic of fatal mob violence that produced more than 3,000 victims, the vast majority of whom were African Americans. More than 450 documented lynchings occurred in Georgia alone. Lynching refers to the illegal killing of a person by a group of others. It does not refer to the method of killing. Lynching victims were murdered by being hanged, shot, burned, drowned, dismembered, or dragged to death. In 1930, the year Hughes penned Mulatto, more lynchings occurred in Georgia than in any other state. Hughes had a voluminous correspondence with Walter White, who headed the N.A.A.C.P from 1931 to White’s Fire in the Flint (1924) was loosely based on his own investigations of mob violence in south Georgia. White also wrote Rope and Faggot (1929); one of the most influential nonfictional analyses of the causes, patterns, and rates of southern lynchings. This work debunked the “big lie” that lynching punished black men for raping white women and it provided White with an opportunity to deliver a penetrating critique of the southern culture that nourished this form of blood sport. He marshaled statistics demonstrating that accusations of rape or attempted rape accounted for less than 30 percent of all lynchings. Despite the emphasis on sexual issues in instances of lynching, White insisted that the fury and sadism with which white mobs attacked their victims stemmed primarily from a desire to keep blacks in their place and control the black labor force. Hughes wrote several letters to White praising him for both his books and his tireless (and life-threatening) campaign against lynching in the South, particularly in his native-state of Georgia. The Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. August 7, 1930. Walter Francis White

4 The Harlem Renaissance Call for a New Theater and Hughes’s “Note on Commercial Theater”
African American cultural leader like Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois actively encouraged the development of a black theater. In 1926, in the paged of the Crisis, Du Bois (Hughes childhood [and life-long] hero) called for a Little Theater movement in black communities, stipulating that the plays be “about us,” “by us,” “for us”, and “near us.” Alain Locke (the so-called “Dean of the New Negro Movement” and one of Hughes’s mentors)recommended the Irish Abbey Players, who toured the U.S. in 1911 and were credited worldwide with creating a theatre capable of depicting the Irish folk, as a model for a genre of theatre capable of expressing “the Drama of Negro Life”

5 “The Criteria for Negro Art” (1926) The Negro artist has a special relationship to freedom that binds him to truth, justice, and their synthesis in the Beautiful. Thus his art, in seeking beauty, will always be propaganda and propaganda is the function of Negro Art (it must be so to fight other forms of propaganda that prove destructive to the black community). “The apostle of beauty thus becomes the apostle of truth and right not by choice but by inner and outer compulsion. Free he is but his freedom is ever bounded by truth and justice; and slavery only dogs him when he is denied the right to tell the truth or recognize an ideal of justice. “ “Thus all art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda.” “I do not doubt that the ultimate art coming from black folk is going to be just as beautiful, and beautiful largely in the same ways, as the art that comes from white folk, or yellow, or red; but the point today is that until the art of the black folk compels recognition they will not be rated as human. And when through art they compel recognition then let the world discover if it will that their art is as new as it is old and as old as new. “ RK-In other words, Dubois imagines a world where racism disappears when the humanness of all men (as recognized in their art) surpasses the importance of race, but until black art compels recognition, Negroes will not be rated as human

6 The Souls of Black Folk (1903): Double Consciousness and The Republic
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. DOUBLE CONSCIOUSNESS: We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes; there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folklore are Indian and African; and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness. THE “OFFERING” TO THE REPUBLIC:

7 Double Consciousness in Hughes’s Early Poetry: “Epilogue”

8 Alain Locke: Key Points from his introduction to The New Negro
That the “Old Negro” was more of a myth than a man, created to serve the purposes of debate. That New Negro “self-understanding” finds its origins and future potential in artistic production. In other words, the New Negro will, in essence, write his way into a new self-understanding. That the New Negro collective of young artists (that would later come to be known as Harlem Renaissance writers) represented a new phase not just in Negro Art, but in Negro identity. Their works were infused with a renewed self-respect and self-dependence that was, in turn, giving the Negro community as a whole a new kind of leadership and positive self-definition.

9 The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain: The Aesthetic Manifesto for Black Nationalism
Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing Water Boy, and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.

10 Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” Nation 122 (June 23, 1926): 692-94
1) Socio-economic factors do indeed play an important, and at times determining, role in the artistic production of the American Negro. 2) However, these very same socio-economic factors have, over time, given rise to (and perpetuated) a nearly irreducible cultural difference between whites and blacks that cannot be trumped by class alone. 3) The fact that middle- and upper-class Negroes both “ape” American culture and are ashamed of the artistic and cultural production of the black masses bares witness to this irreducible difference. Moreover, it is this inferiority complex that constitutes the “racial mountain” that must be climbed if the Negro artist is to discover himself and his people. 4) The cultural production of the black masses—which also constitutes their social fabric—has been and is being mined (with the advent of the New Negro) to produce art that has been and will be acclaimed internationally as separate and distinct from so-called American Art both because it is produced by Negroes who have resisted “American standardization.” 5) The cultural production of the black masses is indeed rooted in “the inherent expressions” of Negroes in America and in the “eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul,” but this “inherent” or “eternal” quality is not a function of racial essentialism. Rather, it is the product of historical circumstance—the manifestation of revolt against the oppressiveness of the white world. 6) Thus, “true Negro art” is (and will be) the product of Negro artists who are not ashamed of their race’s individuality, and who recognize that “true negro art”—art mined from the cultural production of the Negro masses—is governed by what might be labeled proto-black-nationalist criterion that need not and is not concerned with the criterion that governs the artistic production of “American Standardization.”

11 The “Mulatto Theme” in Hughes’s Early Poetry: “Cross”

12 The “Mulatto Theme” in Hughes’s Early Poetry: “Ruby Brown”

13 The “Mulatto Theme” in Hughes’s Early Poetry: “Mulatto”

14 Defining and Redefining the Mulatto Census, The Tragic Mulatto, The Revolutionary Mulatto
"Mulatto" was an official census category until In the south of the country, mulattos inherited slave status if their mother was a slave, although in Spanish and French-influenced areas of the South prior to the Civil War (particularly in New Orleans), a number of mulattos were also free and slave-owning. During the years 1700 – 1800, the term mulatto represented a American Indian child ; it was not used to represent mixed ancestry . The definition changed after the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1868. Lydia Maria Child introduced the literary character that we call the tragic mulatto in two short stories: "The Quadroons" (1842) and "Slavery's Pleasant Homes" (1843). She portrayed this light skinned woman as the offspring of a White slaveholder and his Black female slave. This mulatto's life was indeed tragic. She was ignorant of both her mother's race and her own. She believed herself to be White and free. Her heart was pure, her manners impeccable, her language polished, and her face beautiful. Her father died; her "negro blood" discovered, she was remanded to slavery, deserted by her White lover, and died a victim of slavery and White male violence. A similar portrayal of the near-White mulatto appeared in Clotel (1853), a novel written by Black abolitionist William Wells Brown. Hughes’s friend and contemporary, Nella Larsen, brought the tragic mulatto to the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance in her novel “Quicksand” with the tragic fate of the novel’s heroine, Helga Crane. In Southern Plantation culture, the mulatto—especially when educated--was commonly associated with rebellion and revolt. Nearly all Southern slave revolts (whether it was the case or not) were blamed on mulatto agitation. The theory behind the stereotype was simple: “pure-blood” Negroes lacked the intelligence to coordinate a revolt.

15 Production History and Karamu House
Although written in 1930, Mulatto was not staged until 1935. It was first produced at the famous Karamu House by the Gilpin Players who made Hughes their official playwright in residence in 1930. The play was substantially altered for Broadway (a rape scene was added in which Norwood rapes Sallie without Hughes’s knowledge). Although the Broadway production received terrible reviews, it was a spectacular success and ran for more than a year before touring. It was the largest grossing play written by an African-American for decades, finally yielding that distinction to A Raisin in the Sun. The play was banned in several cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago Karamu House is the oldest African-American Theater in the United Sates. In 1915, Russell and Rowena Woodham Jelliffe, graduates of Oberlin College in nearby Oberlin, Ohio, opened what was then called Settlement House and established as a place where people of different races, creeds and religions could find a common ground. Many of Hughes’ plays debuted at Karamu House, and it remains a cultural Mecca to this very day.

16 Explaining Some of the Text’s Anachronisms The Production History of Mulatto in Hughes’s Own Words

17 Explaining Some of the Text’s Anachronisms The Production History of Mulatto in Hughes’s Own Words

18 Explaining Some of the Text’s Anachronisms The Production History of Mulatto in Hughes’s Own Words

19 Key Themes, Symbols, and Polemics
Mulatto is, in part, anti-lynching play that explores miscegenation in a familial context, and metaphorically on a national one. Intra-caste Prejudice The unspoken as a tool of survival and oppression The unspoken as a specter Lines Crosses Double Consciousness, Double Standards, Doppelgangers Sunsets The Moon Acting vs Being Black


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