MULATTO BY LANGSTON HUGHES-A STORY OF THE DEEP SOUTH
Hughes's Mulatto is one of his plays dealing with life in the south during the 1930s, a time when the system of white control over blacks was absolute and uncompromisingly harsh. Hughes's first conception of the play, as one dealing with "father and son," is a perennial one. Colonel Tom Norwood and Robert Lewis, his mulatto son, recognize their relationship but also hate and reject each other. In Mulatto the realistic cause of conflict is the "color line"the symbolic line that people must cross n order to accept each other as human beings. This is an ideal goal, just as it is also an insurmountable obstacle, in the society that the play depicts. The lack of ability or will to cross the line governs the pattern of action and also the violent outcome. Colonel Norwood has lived in the same house as Cora Lewis for many years, and they do well together as long as he is not confronted with the issues of his paternity and his control over the plantation. There is no way he can recognize the four "yard blacks" on his plantation as his legitimate children, however, unless he is willing to forsake his identity as a white.
There are many other marks of dramatic realism, particularly the exploitation of black women (described in Act I, speech 61), the front entrance of the Norwood house, Robert's complaints about Miss Gray, and his speeding with the Ford. All of Robert's so-called 'uppity' actions would not be unacceptable to white society if he were white, but because he is black they indicate a state of revolt. In addition, Robert's identity as half white, half blackhe is called "yellow" by Colonel Tomleaves him in an anomalous position, for he is not "white" enough to be equal or "black" enough to be subservient. The reality of his situation leads him to hate both whites and blacks alike, and the sudden eruption of his seething anger leads to his uncontrolled violence.
It is important to note that Mulatto reflects the reality of language in the south in the 1930s. Hughes's blacks, except for Robert and Sallie, use southern black vernacular (called "darky talk" by Hughes). The introduction of such speech in literature was controversial at the time. Many black intellectuals who also had been a part of the Harlem Renaissance believed that dialect should be shunned, on the principle that it reinforced negative African-American stereotypes. However, Hughes believed that using the vernacular was above all truthful and realistic, enabling writers to demonstrate that blacks are not stereotypes, that they face human problems just like everyone else. Moreover, they were precedents for the realistic use of dialect that had been set by Mark Twain in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, both of which were acknowledged classics of American Literature.
Mulatto is one of Hughes's most important plays. In 1950 he refashioned it as a libretto, titled The Barrier, that was set to music by the composer Jan Meyerowitz. In addition, the play was translated into Spanish and published in South America in 1954.
one can find within it the serious theme of frustration resulting from the difficulties that African Americans experience in seeking identity and recognition
Berkeley Black Repertory Group Theater (View)
3201 Adeline St.
Berkeley, CA 94703
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