Langston Hughess play Mulatto: A Tragedy of the Deep South, opens on Colonel Thomas Norwood's Georgia plantation.
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Langston Hughes's play Mulatto: A Tragedy of the Deep South, opens on Colonel Thomas Norwood's Georgia plantation. We learn his wife has died, and Norwood lives on the plantation with Cora, his black housewife, and their mulatto children. Several of their children are light skinned enough to pass as white. In fact, his oldest girls are going to school to learn typing although Norwood thinks they are learning cooking and sewing. They are secretly preparing for more pleasant and lucrative lives as educated light-skinned negroes who can pass as white than intending to admit their entire heritage. However, Robert, one of Norwood's mulatto sons, begins thinking of himself as "Mr. Norwood" and more important than he should during this time period. He is causing problems at the post office and calling himself Norwood's son in public, causing problems for Norwood and for all the slaves on the plantation. In Act 2, scene 1 Robert has taken his sister Sallie to the train to go to school. Norwood has asked Cora to send Robert to him when he returns. Cora gets Robert to agree with anything Norwood says to him, which Robert says he will unless Norwood tries to beat him. When they meet, Norwood tells Robert that he will address him as an African American should. Robert says he is Norwood's son, and Norwood says Robert has no father.
The cultural climate in this play, one infected by racism, is represented through the relationships of Colonel Norwood and Cora, and Colonel Norwood and Bert. Mulatto dramatizes the tragedy of Southern culture in general at the time. That is, it shows how black and whites were torn apart by the notion that Europeans must remain removed from their African counterparts. It shows also how blacks might internalize racist tenets. Bert, it is clear, even as he defends his blackness and believes in racial equality, believes also that his whiteness somehow makes him better than other blacks. Cora says to Robert when he is getting ready to speak to Norwood, ''Talk like you was colored, cause you ain't white.'' Robert responds, ''(Angrily) And I'm not black, either. Look at me, mama. (Rising and throwing up his arms) Don't I look like my father? Ain't I as light as he is?'' Between 1909 and 1935, some conditions and circumstances in America had changed and some had remained agonizingly constant. America's racial climate had changed little. Blacks in the South were still voteless, powerless, and legally segregated; and blacks in the North lived, in the main, in poverty-stricken ghettos. The political climate in the play can be seen in the strict racial hierarchies that are so firmly set in place. Many southern whites during this time believed that blacks were racially inferior.
She criticizes Norwood for lying there when he should be helping Robert, his son. She then says that she knows Norwood is faking, that he is not lying there and that he is really out there running after Robert. By her comments, the audience can see that Cora is insane. She says that she will only take orders from Norwood and that she is waiting for him to return. William, her other son, says he is leaving and tries to take his mother with him, but Cora says she is waiting for Robert and Norwood to return. William is frightened at his mother's crazy talk and leaves. Cora talks to the empty room, remembering how she became Norwood's mistress when she was fifteen. Biases stereotypes and prejudices are prevalent throughout this play. It is obvious that this play focuses on the unrelenting abuse that Southern blacks suffered at the hands of whites in the first part of the twentieth century. Continually, grotesque white characters come in and out of the play like ogres, ready to pounce upon nonwhite victims at the slightest provocation, using racist slurs such as "nigger", "coons" "darkies" and yellow". But while such racist abuse is perhaps the most prominent feature of this story of racial mixing in the Deep South, it is certainly not the only concern to which Hughes calls attention. Hughes is also concerned with prejudice within the black race. Mulatto displays, the peculiar situation of blacks' harboring prejudices against fellow blacks.
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