Seeds of Rebellion in Plantation Fiction: Victor Séjour’s “The Mulatto”

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2010-11-16 06:39Z by Steven

Seeds of Rebellion in Plantation Fiction: Victor Séjour’s “The Mulatto”

Southern Spaces
An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the American South and their global connections

Ed Piacentino, Professor of English
High Point University, High Point, North Carolina

This essay examines Victor Séjour’sThe Mulatto” (1837), a short story acknowledged as the first fictional work by an African American. Through its representation of physical and psychological effects, Séjour’s story, a narrative of slavery in Saint-Domingue, also inaugurated the literary delineation of slavery’s submission-rebellion binary. The enslaved raconteur in “The Mulatto” voices protest and appeals to social consciousness and sympathy, anticipating the embedded narrators in works of later writers throughout the Plantation Americas.


  • Introduction
  • Liberated Narrative Voice
  • Restricted Space
  • Clotel’s Rebellion
  • Local Color
  • Conclusion & Notes
  • Recommended Resources
  • “The Mulatto”


A little-known story first translated into English in 1995 by Philip Barnard for The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, “Le Mulâtre” (“The Mulatto”) by Victor Séjour (1817-1874), a New Orleans free man of color, was initially published in the March 1837 issue of Cyrille Bisette’s Parisian abolitionist journal La Revue des Colonies. La Revue was a monthly periodical of “Colonial Politics, Administration, Justice, Education and Customs” owned and sponsored by a “society of men of color.” A recent immigrant to Paris, Séjour was in an amenable environment among kindred spirits who shared his sentiments about slavery.

…Although little known in its era, “The Mulatto” presents the binary of submission and rebellion that became a motif in U.S. based slave narratives and novelized autobiographies treating racialized sexual harassment and/or exploitation of mulattas such as Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl, antislavery novels such as William Wells Brown’s Clotel or; The President’s Daughter and Hannah Crafts’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative, and even late nineteenth-century southern local color stories with embedded former slave storytellers, such as Charles Waddell Chesnutt’s Uncle Julius. In exposing the brutality of the slave system, such as the impact of miscegenation on persons of mixed race; the sexual violation of enslaved persons; and the physical and psychological brutalities of slavery—particularly the devastating effects on family life of whites as well as on blacks—“The Mulatto” deploys strategies for antislavery protest writing that will appear in antebellum slave narratives and anti-slavery novels and in postbellum fiction about slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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