- The "Tragic Mulatta" Revisited: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Antislavery Fiction, and: The Mulatta and the Politics of Race
The recent publication of several books on gender and miscegenation points to a veritable "discourse of the mulatta" in literary and American studies; to the two books reviewed here we might also add Cassandra Jackson's Barriers Between Us: Interracial Sex in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Indiana University Press, 2004) and Suzanne Bost's Mulattas and Mestizas: Representing Mixed Identities in the Americas, 1850–2000 (University of Georgia Press, 2002). In The Tragic Mulatta Revisited and The Mulatta and the Politics of Race, Eva Allegra Raimon and Teresa Zackodnik focus specifically on the female incarnation of the tragic mulatta trope, thereby repudiating literary critics' dismissal of this figure.
Raimon introduces her subject by explaining how the tragic mulatta emerged from an "acute disjuncture between the avowed ideology of the one-drop rule and the inescapable interracial nature of antebellum Southern life" (30). From here, she moves gracefully into a discussion of Lydia Maria Child's early writings on interracial marriage and miscegenation, arguing that Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times was a preamble to Child's radical antislavery writing (31–37). In chapter two, which examines the relationship between Child's "The Quadroons" and William Wells Brown's Clotel; or, the President's Daughter, Raimon cogently argues that contrary to Child, "Brown's overriding purpose in deploying the 'tragic mulatta' emblem is to imprint indelibly in readers' minds the inescapable alliance between American selfhood and racial perfidy, the pernicious mendacity of the nation's founding ideals" (87). The most significant section of the book is chapter three, which identifies the heroine of Richard Hildreth's The Slave; or, Memoirs of Archy Moore (1836) as an aggressive precursor to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Cassy in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Raimon's brilliant comparison of the "Resistant Cassys" illuminates how the inscription of the mulatta embodies the potential for liberation (88). She then provocatively applies Harryette Mullen's concept of "resistant orality" to Stowe's Cassy in order to demonstrate how Cassy's "very articulation constitutes her agency," and thus allows Stowe to counter an established tradition of mulatta fiction (112). Though she admits that Mullen's theory specifically addresses black female agency, she maintains that despite Stowe's "white, colonizationist subject position," the idea of resistant orality illuminates "Stowe's rendering of Cassy's speech" (111, 112). More compelling is her interpretation of Cassy's infanticide as a "profoundly revolutionary political act of resistance" that poses a moral and economic challenge to the slave system (109). Chapter four deviates slightly from the comparative framework employed throughout the book; here Raimon claims Harriet Wilson's hybrid, autobiographical work Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black in a Two-Story White House, North, Showing That Slavery's Shadows Fall Even There as a tragic mulatta tale. Reading Our Nig "as a countertext and a corrective" to the preceding authors allows for a fluid segue into her Coda (114), where she concludes with a witty reading of Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone (a retelling of Gone With the Wind) and two contemporary cinematic depictions of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson (146–58).
While Raimon scrutinizes the work of black [End Page 206] and white writers, Zackodnik exclusively examines portrayals of the mulatta by African American women. She begins as Raimon does with antebellum texts, but expands her discussion to encompass turn-of-the century fiction and the passing novels of the Harlem Renaissance. In looking specifically at black women's imaginative explorations of the mulatta, she argues that in the hands of these writers the mulatta "becomes not a figure through which white fantasies of racial difference are played out but rather one through which the color line is tested...