Langston Hughes method of exposing racism and gender racism in Five Plays is to simply tell it like it is, to show all aspects of black life, good, bad, beautiful, ugly, and everything in between. He depicts forms of racism such as oppression, miscegenation, violence, dishonesty in the name of religion, illegal profiteering playing upon the hopes and dreams of the poor, at the same time he glorifies the love, beauty, uplifting music, true faith and laughter of his black brothers and sisters. He doesn't try to hide what is unsavory about blacks. He doesn't need to put a lot of whites in his plays to demonstrate racism. Langston Hughes presents the black people as they are, showing how racism and gender racism has continues to affect their lives.
The Voices and Visions video on Langston Hughes reveals how the artistry of Hughes has contributed to our understanding of racism. In June of 1926 what was called Hughes's "Manifesto" appeared in the Nation Magazine. In this piece, titled: "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," Hughes, who was fast becoming both the voice of Negro people, and the voice of the Negro artist expressed the philosophy we see in his works: "We are beautiful and ugly too. We stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves" (Voices and Visions video). Hughes wrote about everyday ordinary blacks, about their beauty and their ugliness. He focused on common working people. His role as writer was to transform the ordinary and commonplace through his poetic imagination into art. This art conveyed the role of racism in their lives in order to help them see themselves and their relationships with whites better.
Hughes is described as "a seer who gives illumination to the significance of black experience." In the video, James Baldwin says: Hughes "helps blacks to see what's already in front of their eyes." As an "unrelenting" publicist for black art and black people Hughes injected the black experience with significance. Using black speech patterns and music he underscored his main theme that black is beautiful. (Voices and Visions video).
In the anthology, Five Plays, the editor, Webster Smalley presents plays by Hughes that bring to the stage the tragedy and comedy and everything in between that makes up the black story in the deep South and in Harlem. The five plays are Mulatto, Soul Gone Home, Little Ham, Simply Heavenly, and Tambourines to Glory.
Mulatto is a tragedy that takes place in the deep South where racism is most deeply entrenched. "In Mulatto," says editor Smalley, "the injustices suffered by Bert, by Cora, and by all the Negroes in the rural South are clearly and forcefully presented" (Smalley xi). Colonel Thomas Norwood has lived with a black woman, Cora, for many years ever since his wife died. He has had 5 children by her. The four still living are now adults or nearly so. The father doesn't publicly acknowledge his children, though he pays for their schooling. He finds it outrageous for the boy Bert, to call him father in public, and beats him for doing so. This is a critical turning point in the boy's life. He desperately wants to be acknowledged as white. That there is no hope of that in this southern society is the saddest element of the horrible racism seen in this play. Children who are half white, cannot use their father's name and do not dare to claim their white blood. The price for Bert, now a young man facing the realities of his situation, is death. He rebels against his fate and ends up killing his father in a rage. He flees for his life, symbolizing the eternal need of the blacks to run for their lives. Then, knowing the fate in store for him at the hands of the white mob, he takes his own life.
In discussing this play, at least one critic makes much of what she calls "intracaste prejudice" (Bienvenu 341) which might otherwise be called racism of a mulatto against his own black half. Bert is obsessed with his white father and with "being recognized as Norwood's true heir" (Bienvenu 342). He doesn't want to be a "black buck" or be identified in any way by his black blood. As his brother William says, "Bert thinks he's a real white man hisself now" (Mulatto…