“I am on the Coloured Side”: The Roles of the White Suitor and the Black Mother in the Tragic Mulatta Narrative

“I am on the Coloured Side”: The Roles of the White Suitor and the Black Mother in the Tragic Mulatta Narrative

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Shannon D. Luders Manuel

What I propose to add to the already established dialogue regarding the tragic mulatta narrative is an investigation into the commonalities of the genre’s endings, as well as to assert that the tragic mulatta genre is present even at the turn of the 21st century with such works as Danzy Senna’s Caucasia. While my investigation by no means covers an exhaustive list of tragic mulatta narratives, the readings provide an overview of the ways in which the narrative has both evolved over time and stayed consistent during the antebellum, post-bellum, Harlem Renaissance, and the present day. I present each author as both building from previous authors’ works and as limited to the time period in which he or she pens the novel(s).

The tragic mulatta of the post-bellum rejected white male suitors as a larger and more crucial rejection of sexual slavery and depravity, as well as attempting to shield the suitors from experiencing rejection from their own white contemporaries, as Angela does at the end of Plum Bun: “But I want you to know that from now on, so far as sides are concerned, I am on the coloured side. And I don’t want you to come over on that side” (373). However, the tragic mulattas continue to reject white male suitors even into the 21st century, and I assert that this repetition is limiting both to the characters themselves and to the narrative lives of contemporary mulatta readers. I further assert that the genre continues to pair rejection of the white male suitor with a reappropriation of true “blackness” and maternal domesticity. Through observing the tragic mulatta’s need to gain identity and sense of place through her darker mother or sister and the rejection of a white male suitor, tragic mulatta scholars—as well as critical race theorists in general—become more aware of the unique position the genre holds in identity formation as seen through what I believe are critical fictional texts for an interracial nation.

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