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

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Presentation on theme: "Mulatto: A Play of the Deep South (1930) by Langston Hughes Part I and II of II."— Presentation transcript:

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

2 Historical and Theatrical Precedents

3 Lynching: Strange Fruit: Georgia and Lynching 1)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. 2)In 1930, the year Hughes penned Mulatto, more lynchings occurred in Georgia than in any other state. 3)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. 4)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, Walter Francis White Talking Points 1)Hughes, at the time of authorship, is faced with a bloody reality and some startling (to some) new (and documented) facts about lynching, and yet he chose to keep his play out of the factory, somewhat “out-of-time,” (but notably not out of place), and in the seeming context of a domestic drama. Conjecture as to the reasons behind these choices. 2)What special ethical burdens did Hughes face at the time of authorship? What were the stakes? What is the inherent assumption about the power of theatre being made here?

4 Lynching: In Abraham’s Bosom 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 Talking Points 1)Conjecture as to the different burdens (keeping in mind our discussions about representativity) that faced Green and Hughes at the time of authorship of their respective plays. 2)How would Green’s acclaim factor into all of this? In other words, what multiple dilemmas did Hughes face when he picked up his pen? 3)The “bosom” of Abraham

5 Defining and Redefining the Historical Trope of the Mulatto: Census, The Tragic Mulatto, The Revolutionary Mulatto 1)"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 )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. 3)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. Talking Points 1)Hughes offers us a refashioning of these facts and archetypes? 2) Describe some of the ways Hughes uses Robert to accomplish these ends? How does “Cross” stage a similar dilemma to that of Robert and the cast of the play?

6 HELPFUL “KEYS” FOR READING AND PERFORMING MULATTO

7 Key Themes, Symbols, Polemics, and Intertexts 1)Mulatto is, in part, anti-lynching play that explores miscegenation in a familial context, and metaphorically on a national one. 2)Intra-caste Prejudice 3)The unspoken as a tool of survival and oppression 4)The unspoken as a specter 5)Lines 6)Crosses 7)Double Consciousness, Double Standards, Doppelgangers 8)Sunsets 9)The Moon 10)The figure of the Tragic/Trouble-Making mulatto in the history of American letters 11) Oedipus 12)Revelations 13)The Passion 14)Acting vs. Being Black “The Burden of Representativity”

8 The Harlem Renaissance Call for a New Theater and Hughes’s “Note on Commercial Theater” 1)African American cultural leader like Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois actively encouraged the development of a black theater. 2)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.” 3)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” Talking Points How does Hughes’s poem rearticulate these calls? How does it refashion them? To what problems does it allude that we’ve seen mentioned in previous plays? To what additional injustices does it give voice?

9 The Harlem Renaissance Call for a New Theater and Alain Locke: Key Points from his introduction to The New Negro 1)That the “Old Negro” was more of a myth than a man, created to serve the purposes of debate. 2)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. 3)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. Talking Points 1) How is Locke’s philosophy realized, via performance, in this scene?

10 The Harlem Renaissance Call for a New Theater and “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. “ Talking Points 1) How is Robert an Apostle of Truth? 2)The Junction 3) The symbolic resonances of refusing the true message of the son. 4) Acting Black v.s. Playing Black on stage 5) Custom and habit 6) Talking Right v.s. Talking Truth and the implications of both 7) How does keeping the Du Boisian paradigm of Art in mind make us think of Colonel Norwood?

11 Key Meditation on Race in Performance/Masking: Acting Black vs./and Being Black Talking Points 1)Masking vs. Masking on stage 2)Fictional Labels for Fictional Characters: Staging Intra-caste prejudice 3)Playing and not Playing Black 4) The dangerous example: inside and outside the play 5)Locating, portraying, and writing the “Authentic Black”: Where to find it? 6) Grey Eyes and a “Mixed South”8) Intra-group Masking 9) The implications of the impossibility of truth 10) Echoes of Locke (Old/New Negro)

12 Key Aesthetic Strategies/Fusing Fiction and Fact: Contemporary Figures, Propaganda, Historical Figures, Landscapes, and Hypocrisy 1) Theodore Gilmore Bilbo (October 13, 1877 – August 21, 1947) twice served as governor of Mississippi (1916–20, 1928–32) and later became a U. S. Senator. 2) Proud member of the Ku Klux Klan, staunch supporter of segregation, and outspoken advocate of disenfranchising the Black population of the U.S. 3) Author of: Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization (1947). 4) Bilbo helped carry Mississippi for Al Smith in the 1928 Presidential election by claiming that Hoover, in 1927, “insisted that his train be routed through Mount Bayou... in order that he might visit Mrs. Mary Booze, a negress, socially,“ 5) Garvey praised him in return, saying that Bilbo had "done wonderfully well for the Negro.“ 6) Bilbo was a prominent participant in the lengthy filibusters of anti-lynching bills before the Senate: “ If you succeed in the passage of this bill, you will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold [….] 1) John Elliott Rankin (March 29, 1882 – November 26, 1960) was a congressman from Mississippi (serving from ) 2) He supported segregation, and--although the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) provided Blacks with suffrage—Rankin (and others) worked vigorously enact legislation, which used such things as the poll tax and literacy test to prohibit Blacks from actually capitalizing on their right to vote. 3) He was considered the most outspoken leader of the Southern Democrats; and proudly stood for "four- square against a federal ballot for soldiers, eight-square against the Administration and, of course, sixteen-square in favor of the poll tax, white supremacy, and Southern womanhood." 4) Rankin was also an outspoken anti-Communist, ranking member of HUAC. and “Red-baiter,” largely because the Communist Party had not only called for suffrage for all Blacks in the United States, but had also called for an independent Black Republic for the Black Belt of the Southeastern United States to be brought about either via the ballot or armed insurrection. James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the 11 th president of the United States (1845–1849). Polk was a slaveholder for his entire life. His father, Samuel Polk, had left Polk more than 8,000 acres (32 km²) of land, and divided about 53 slaves to his widow and children after Samuel died. James inherited twenty of his father's slaves, either directly or from deceased brothers. Polk rarely sold slaves, although once he became President and could better afford it, he bought more. Polk's will stipulated that their slaves were to be freed after his wife Sarah had died. He is considered to be the last “effective” president to hold office before abolition Talking Points 1 What is the effect produced by this intertwining of historical personages and events in a play that announces itself as a “tale”? 2) “Of course, I know”…what? 3) Given the play’s framing of the political and judicial sphere, what do you make of Higgins’ brazen hypocrisy? Does it matter that his is the “party-line”?

13 Echoing Walter White: Property, Poverty, Labor, Sexual Transgression, and the Causes of Lynching The Great Depression The setting notes for the play say that it takes place in the present time, but it takes a little digging to figure out what Hughes means by present time. Although the play was not published until the 1960s, it was first performed in 1935, written in 1930, and copyrighted in Because of this, Hughes most likely means for the play to take place sometime in the early 1930s. This was a volatile time in America, which was undergoing the devastating financial crisis known as the Great Depression. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the mainly African American population assumed that this was a “white problem” since African Americans did not typically own stocks. Recalling White White also wrote Rope and Faggot (1929); one of the most influential nonfictional analyses of the causes, patterns, and rates of southern lynching. 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. Talking Points: 1) Debunking the myth of Lynching: Labor and Sexual Transgression 2) Intra-Caste Prejudice: The Renaissance Drive to Portray Beauty and Ugliness 3) Mose vs. Moses 4) Property, Inheritance, 5) “Son of yours” and “Ford of Mine” 6) Sun and Son 7) Echoes of Du Bois on Washington

14 Murder, Blood Vengeance, Freedom, Sacrifice, and the Possibility of Resurrection without Redemption Talking Points 1)Strangulation, Crucifixion, Suicide 2)Killing his whiteness? Or killing as whiteness? 3)“Niggers are living, he’s dead” 4)Father’s House/ Heaven 5)The River Jordan and the swamp 6)Expulsions from the father/Work/Slavery/Curses 7)Wade in the water (children) Wade in the water Wade in the water God's gonna trouble the water If you don't believe I've been redeemed God's gonna trouble the water I want you to follow him on down to Jordan stream (I said) My God's gonna trouble the water You know chilly water is dark and cold (I know my) God's gonna trouble the water You know it chills my body but not my soul (I said my) God's gonna trouble the water (Come on let's) wade in the water Wade in the water (children) Wade in the water God's gonna trouble the water

15 Family Lines and Family Circles Line, Ellipsis, Triangles, Trinity Talking Points 1) Flexible Lines and Junctions 2) Lines and Ellipses 3) Love Triangles 4) The Trinity: Holy and Unholy Ghosts 5) The impossibility of being Father, Son, or Holy Ghost 6) Cora’s Madness: Insanity or Epiphany 7) The Impossible Third Term: The Impossible Ghost 8) The Risen and the Renaissance 9)Echoes of Du Bois and Washington 10) Oedipus and an Unholy Ghost

16 Key Symbols Revisited: Sunsets and Moon 1) Astronomy- As seen by an observer on Earth on the imaginary celestial sphere the Moon crosses the ecliptic every orbit at positions called nodes twice every month. When the full moon occurs in the same position at the node, a lunar eclipse can occur. These two nodes allow two to five eclipses per year, parted by approximately six months. A total penumbral lunar eclipse dims the moon in direct proportion to the area of the sun’s disk blocked by the earth, and is known as a “red moon” Apocalypse: Rev: 6: 12 I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. Talking Points 1)Staging the Burden of Representativity 2)Manipulating meta-textual generic markers 3)Realist Symbolism- Sun, Moon, and Doors 4)Robert as Christ and Anti-Christ 5)Inappropriate contact and foreshadowing 6)“blood cross” 7)“It’s nearly six”

17 Intertexts Christ and Oedipus Religious and National Sacrifice, Responsibility, and Patriarchy Oedipus was the son of Laius and Jocast, king and queen of Thebes After having been married some time without children, his parents consulted the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi about their childlessness. The Oracle prophesied that if Laius should have a son, the son would kill him and marry Jocasta. In an attempt to prevent this prophecy's fulfillment, when Jocasta indeed bore a son, Laius had his ankles pinned together and gave the boy to a servant to abandon on the nearby mountain. However, rather than leave the child to die as Laius intended, the sympathetic servant passed the baby onto a shepherd from Corinth. Little Oedipus (so named after the injuries to his feet, from when they were pinned together as a child) came to the house of Polybus, king of Corinthand his queen, Merope, who were without children of their own. Many years later, Oedipus is told by a drunk that Polybus is not his real father but when he asks his parents, they deny it. Oedipus, unsure, seeks counsel from the same Delphic Oracle. The Oracle does not tell him the identity of his true parents but instead tells him that he is destined to couple with his mother and kill his father (though not specifying in which order). In his attempt to avoid the fate predicted by the Oracle, he decides to flee from Corinth to Thebes. As Oedipus travels he comes to the place where three roads meet, Davlia. Here he encounters a chariot, driven by his (unrecognized) birth-father, King Laius. They fight over who has the right to go first and Oedipus kills Laius in self defense, unwittingly fulfilling part of the prophecy. The only witness of the king's death was a slave who fled from a caravan of slaves also traveling on the road. Many years after the marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta, a plague of infertility strikes the city of Thebes; crops no longer grow to harvest and women do not bear children. Oedipus, in his hubris and according to the dictated of and responsibilities of his birthright, asserts that he will end the pestilence. He sends Creon, Jocasta's brother, to the Oracle at Delphi, seeking guidance. When Creon returns, Oedipus hears that the murderer of the former King Laius must be found and either be killed or exiled. In a search for the identity of the killer, Oedipus follows Creon's suggestion and sends for the blind prophet, Tiresias, who warns him not to try to find the killer. In a heated exchange, Tiresias is provoked into exposing Oedipus himself as the killer, and the fact that Oedipus is living in shame because he does not know who his true parents are. Oedipus blames Creon for Tiresias telling Oedipus that he was the killer. Oedipus and Creon begin a heated argument. Jocasta enters and tries to calm Oedipus. She tries to comfort him by telling him about her old husband and his supposed death. Oedipus becomes unnerved as he begins to think that he might have killed Laius and so brought about the plague. Suddenly, a messenger arrives from Corinth with the news that King Polybus has died and that the people of Corinth would have Oedipus as their king. Oedipus is relieved concerning the prophecy, for it could no longer be fulfilled if Polybus, whom he thinks is his father, is now dead. Nonetheless, he is wary while his mother lives and does not wish to go. To ease the stress of the matter, the messenger then reveals that Oedipus was, in fact, adopted. Jocasta, finally realizing Oedipus' true identity, begs him to abandon his search for Laius' murderer. Oedipus misunderstands the motivation of her pleas, thinking that she was ashamed of him because he might have been the son of a slave. She then goes into the palace where she hangs herself. Oedipus seeks verification of the messenger's story from the very same herdsman who was supposed to have left Oedipus to die as a baby. From the herdsman, Oedipus learns that the infant raised as the adopted son of Polybus and Merope was the son of Laius and Jocasta. Thus, Oedipus finally realizes in great agony that so many years ago, at the place where three roads meet, he had killed his own father, King Laius, and as consequence, married his mother, Jocasta. Oedipus goes in search of Jocasta and finds she has killed herself. Taking two pins from her dress, Oedipus gouges his eyes out. Talking Points 1)How do these two myths of nation and patriarchy complement and complicate one another? 2)Why layer multiple cosmologies onto “the present”? 3)What kind of national allegory is MULATTO?

18 A Brief History of the Text and Play

19 Production History and Karamu House 1)Although written in 1930, Mulatto was not staged until )It was first produced at the famous Karamu House by the Gilpin Players who made Hughes their official playwright in residence in )The play was substantially altered for Broadway (a rape scene was added in which Norwood rapes Sallie without Hughes’s knowledge). 4)Although the Broadway production received terrible reviews, it was a spectacular success and ran for more than a year before touring. 5)It was the largest grossing play written by an African-American for decades, finally yielding that distinction to A Raisin in the Sun. 6)The play was banned in several cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago 7)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.

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

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