Mulatto" by Langston Hughes is that the figure of the tragic mulatto highlights the contradictions of white society in his presence and person: both during the era in which the poem is set and also during the Harlem Renaissance when Hughes wrote. The significance of the work lies in the fact that for the first time blacks in America were able to have a distinct literary voice after being oppressed and denied literacy and social agency even after the end of slavery. "Hughes used his writing to reflect his thoughts about political injustices, racial oppression, poverty, the black experience, family, and work" (Flick 1).
The poem "Mulatto" is a dramatic monologue, a poem which is not narrated in the voice of the poet like a lyric work but instead assumes the role of another character, often one who is marginal and despised, like the murderer of Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess." In the case of "Mulatto," Hughes highlights not only the conflicts and racial contradictions of American society but also black society which despises mulattos and individuals of mixed race as alien; mulattos themselves often view themselves as separate from their own race, both hopeful of claiming white privilege even though they cannot, as the narrator of the poem suggests when he says: "Niggers ain't my brother" (27). Hughes' literary works made some people uncomfortable as Hughes "did not want to exalt the black community to a position above reproach, and he did not try to appease the white community by blunting the edges of racism's harsh reality. This attitude did not endear him to blacks or whites," notes literary critic Amy Flick of the Center of Working Class studies.
Flick also notes that "the black critics often condemned Hughes. They thought that he was irresponsibly portraying the black culture as lowly and primitive. They felt that he was sending a poor message to the white community and thereby generating more racial tension." In "Mulatto" Hughes not only condemns white rape of black, enslaved women but the subsequent racial divides within black society that this caused, effectively creating color lines between blacks as well as reinforcing but also breaking down the color barrier between blacks and whites. The figure of the tragic mulatto was a common one during this era: "The tragic mulatto myth historically painted biracial people as emotionally unstable and destined to fit in neither black…
Sources Used in Documents:
Flick, Amy. "Langston Hughes." Center for Working Class Studies. 2003. Web. 2 Apr 2015.