Mixed Messages: The Role of the Multiracial Character in Children’s Literature

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-09-01 19:47Z by Steven

Mixed Messages: The Role of the Multiracial Character in Children’s Literature

theracetoread: Children’s Literature and Issues of Race

Karen Sands-O’Connor, Professor
English Department
Buffalo State, The State University of New York, Buffalo, New York

In 19th and early 20th century children’s literature, the multiracial character generally evoked one of two responses: fear, or pity. Tom Sawyer’s Injun Joe, for example, was much feared by Tom and his gang, Tom even having nightmares about the character coming to get him. In Caddie Woodlawn, the children of an Indian mother and white father are “half savage” and the recipient of Caddie’s attempts to “civilize” them by paying for new clothes. Other examples can be found in British Empire literature—the “ugly mulatto” being a stock character of fear in books by G.A. Henty, H. Rider Haggard, and others; and the pitiable female “half-breed” or “mulatto” who cannot ultimately be saved by the white hero also figures in the works of these authors.

After World War II, as civil rights in the US and changing immigration patterns in Britain meant increasing, often hostile, interaction between racial groups, the multiracial character in children’s literature nearly disappeared for a time. But a generation later, many things had changed. More and more children were born who had parents of different races, but it was unclear where they would fit in to a post-civil rights society. Both American and British authors produced books dealing with this issue, but for this blog, I’m just going to look at two from Britain: Anthony Masters’ Streetwise (London: Methuen, 1987), and Jacqueline Roy’s Soul Daddy (London: Collins, 1990)…

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