Non-Traditionally Tragic Mulattas: Defying Notions of Denial and Self-Hate

April 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

Inheriting the vices of both the black and white race, traditionally tragic mulatto characters have been comfortably depicted in much of abolitionist literature as intricately, and inextricably, conflicted individuals; miserable and without race “worshipping the whites and despised by them… despising and despised by Negroes.” Fundamentally defying stereotypical notions of self hatred and denial are the Mulatta characters Cassie and Iola. For while both characters do to a degree display a capacity to be analyzed through the conventional tragic Mulatta literary lens, both, to a higher degree, dramatize the eradication of the bulwark that is self-hatred and consequent denial—clearing the way for self-actualization, and subsequent liberation. The Stereotypical Mulatta, craving nothing more than to find a white lover and then go down, accompanied by slow anguished music, to a tragic end, is defied, most literally, by Iola Leroy. Raised white, Iola cultivates a pro-slavery attitude. One that is quickly overturned post the crude and sudden manner through which the truth of her heritage is exposed. Immediately after having been thrown into slavery, the complicated relationship between the notions of biology and culture surface, Iola ultimately not only accepts and embraces her black heritage but, more importantly (or rather, most defiantly) manifests this embracement by marrying , not the white Dr. Gresham, but rather the mulatto Latimer. In an instance in which the “tragic” nature of the traditionally tragic Mulatta should have surfaced, one finds Iola Leroy’s character anything but homogenized. For, while she later in the novel is hesitant in revealing her black identity to employers she not only later does reveal it, she genuinely does identify as black, and is unwilling to live under a shadow of concealment, “which I thoroughly hate as if the blood in my veins were an undetected crime of my soul.” This exemplifies the very things that aid in the direct refutation of feelings of self-hate and self-despise. For, while the traditionally depicted literary Mulatta would have illustrated to her audience the many altogether contrary elements of things like fear, rejection, elitism, blame, and shame swarming deep inside her, Iola does not. Her conviction is palpable; she publically asserts herself as black and devotes her life to the empowering of the black community through education and subsequent political activism. Supplementing the illustration of the defiance of traditional portrayals of tragic Mulattas is Iola’s role as a teacher. It is this role that proves to be an integral part of black resistance as well as an integral supplement reifying Iola’s black identity. Education encouraged a better class of blacks, and challenged racial stereotypes. And yet, a problem surfaced. For, “while the insistence of a ‘better class of blacks’ challenged racial stereotypes, it also helped promote them by characterizing the masses as degenerates whose salvation depended on the more privileged,” i.e. a person of a uniquely privileged background like Iola . Mulatto teacher characters exemplified the cultural conflict between black middle-class leaders and the black masses. Mulattos dramatized, because of their resemblance to whites, the potential to abandon black social causes and ‘pass’ as white. Iola does not do this. Iola does not ‘pass’ as white. Iola transcends her victimization as a slave, and is endowed with the strength and conviction that allows her to powerfully affirm her black roots—transcending the traditional self-hate of the Tragic Mulatta character and opening the path toward self-realization. Seemingly antithetical to Iola is Stowe’s complex Cassie; a slave of mixed race who falls from privilege to degradation and despair. Primarily characterized through a stereotypically literary Mulatta lens, Cassie admits to at first wanting only one thing: “I wanted him to marry me.” Irrevocably in tune with traditional depictions of tragic Mulattas and irrevocably in love Cassie devotes herself to her seemingly sincere white suitor only to experience rejection, betrayal, and the selling of her children. And thus the juncture at which Cassie ceases to be the traditionally tragic Mulatta is marked. Cassie outraged and crazed strikes back with dangerous resistance; becoming, in her own way, a political character. “Cassie’s reaction can be seen as a transformation of the conventionally internalized and self-destructive madness of the literary Mulatta.” Her insolence becomes a form of protest. The form in which her story is told, furthermore exemplifies her role as a political figure. She tells her story. She is her own narrator. She is the focus of an entire chapter. Reinforcing a deep connection between her role as a political agitator. The literary portrayals of the characters of Iola and Cassie are incongruous with cliché depictions of tragic Mulattas. For both characters represent a drive that thirsts for autonomy and liberation. And while each of their stories is tragic, neither is the stereotypically submissive tragic Mulatta. Both are heroines. BibliographyBrown, Sterling A. ―Negro Character as Seen by White Authors.‖ The Journal of Negro Education 2, no. 2 (April 1933): 179–203 Harper, Frances E. W. Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Garrigues, 1893. Reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. Jackson, Cassandra. Barriers Between Us: Interracial Sex in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. Raimon, Eve A. The “Tragic Mulatta” Revisited: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Antislavery Fiction. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. New York: Pocket Books, 2004.

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