Abstract

Framed around contemporary legal efforts for and theories of political reparations, the essay analyzes how Langston Hughes's Mulatto, written in 1930 and first produced in 1935, functions as a call for racial remuneration. Set in the post–World War I South, Mulatto, the longest-running black-authored play on Broadway before Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, focuses on the revolutionary figure of Robert, the son of a white landowner, Colonel Tom Norwood, and his black housekeeper cum common-law wife, Cora. Robert returns from schooling in the North to challenge the household's status quo and in particular his father, who refuses to recognize him as his own. Seeking access to the rights of white privilege as well as redress for his father's psychic abandonment, the headstrong Robert serves as a complicated agent of redress. Colonel Norwood's refusal to acknowledge his son represent not just an individual betrayal; it reflects the refusal of the state's culpability in racial disenfranchisement. Consequently, the blood debt is not simply what is owed Robert and Cora, but what is due to African Americans. Hughes is not after payment, not even back-pay, but payback—payback in the form of symbolic reordering of the social and political hierarchy.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 85-103
Launched on MUSE
2009-05-08
Open Access
No
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