The Tragic Mulatto Myth

Lydia Maria Child introduced the literary character that we call the tragic mulatto1 in two short stories: “The Quadroons” (1842) and “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes” (1843). She portrayed this light skinned woman as the offspring of a white slaveholder and his black female slave. This mulatto’s life was indeed tragic. She was ignorant of both her mother’s race and her own. She believed herself to be white and free. Her heart was pure, her manners impeccable, her language polished, and her face beautiful. Her father died; her “negro blood” discovered, she was remanded to slavery, deserted by her white lover, and died a victim of slavery and white male violence. A similar portrayal of the near-white mulatto appeared in Clotel(1853), a novel written by black abolitionist William Wells Brown.

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