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Mulatto (play)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mulatto: A Tragedy of the Deep South
Written byLangston Hughes
  • Robert Lewis
  • Colonel Norwood
  • Cora Lewis
  • Sallie Lewis
  • Fred Higgins
  • William Lewis
  • assorted black servants and white townspeople
Date premieredOctober 24, 1935 (1935-10-24)
Place premieredVanderbilt Theatre
Original languageEnglish
Subjectanti-black racism in the US South
Setting1930s Georgia plantation

Mulatto: A Tragedy of the Deep South is a play about race issues by Langston Hughes. It was produced on Broadway in 1935 by Martin Jones,[1] where it ran for 11 months and 373 performances.[2] It is one of the early Broadway plays to combine father-son conflict with race issues.[3]


Act One On the Norwood Plantation in Polk County, Georgia, Colonel Norwood and his African slave, Cora Lewis, have four children together: William, who still lives on the plantation and who has a son of his own; two daughters, Bertha and Sallie, who are light enough to pass for white; and Robert, a.k.a. Bert, who is 18 and who has Norwood's facial features. Robert has been away at an all-Colored school since he was a young boy and is visiting the plantation for the first time in many years. In Act One, we learn that Robert has been refusing to follow all the expected behaviors for Mulatto people and has been asserting himself as Norwood's heir, much to the shock of the local townspeople and to Norwood's anger. Cora, meanwhile, is revealed to have secretly sent her daughters to secretarial school, so that they can move up north and have good jobs, but has been telling the Colonel that they are learning to be cooks.

Act Two

  • Scene 1: Cora calls in Robert and leaves him alone to speak with Norwood. Norwood tells Robert he is to leave his property for his behavior, bringing out his pistol as a threat. Norwood tells Robert that his overseer Talbot and the storekeeper are coming to ensure that Robert leaves. Robert and Norwood get into a heated argument that ends with Robert strangling Norwood and taking his gun. Cora comes in and tells Robert to run away as he will most certainly be executed when found. When Talbot and the storekeeper arrive at the house and find Norwood's corpse they call for help and immediately begin a search for Robert.
  • Scene 2: The undertaker arrives to take Norwood's body to town. Sam and William decide to leave the property, fearful of getting caught up in the violence of the mob hunting Robert. They ask Cora to go with them but she refuses and stays behind to wait for Robert. Cora is clearly unstable and throughout the scene, she speaks to Norwood as if he were alive and in the room with her. Robert shows up back at the house, the sounds of the lynch mob close behind. He goes upstairs and kills himself with the Colonel's gun as the mob breaks into the house to seize him.


  • Colonel Thomas Norwood: originally played by Stuart Beebe.[2] Norwood is 60 years old. He has a quick temper. He Is a commanding colonel. His wife is dead so he took up Cora as a lover and fathered 4 of the mulatto children, but he refuses to acknowledge them as his own, even though he allows them to go to school. He is also Cora's boss. Cora's mother helped raise him. He cares greatly about what people think of him.
  • Cora Lewis: originally played by Rose McClendon. She is Norwood's mistress. Cora met Norwood when she was 15, which is when they first had sexual relations. Her relationship with Norwood is encouraged by her mother on the grounds that her life would be better with him than if she stayed in the fields. She lives with him separate to the other slaves. She has four children with him. She did not move into the house until Norwood's wife died, at that point she was carrying their first child William. She knows her "place" in this hostile and racist world and cares for her family's survival over everything. She even risks her safety for the salvation of her children by sending them off to school. By the end of the play, she has become more defiant against the white people, refusing to answer Talbot.
  • William Lewis: originally played by Morris McKenney
  • Sallie Lewis: originally played by Jeanne Green
  • Robert Lewis: originally played by Hurst Amyx. Robert is the youngest son of Cora, and he is rebellious. He stands up for his rights, doesn't want to bow down to the "whites," even though his mother asks him not to be rebellious because she wants him to be safe and alive. Robert is the only one who wants things to change, the rest just want to be safe. But, he says if they all stay quiet things, will never change.
  • Fred Higgins: originally played by Frank Jaquet
  • Sam: Sam is a servant that does everything he is told to do by Norwood. He is loyal to Norwood, and he will tell on anyone who does not obey Norwood's orders. Even though he is loyal to Norwood, he is relived from all his fear after he finds our Norwood is dead.
  • Billy:
  • Talbot: originally played by John Boyd. He is the overseer of the slaves that work on Norwood's plantation. Always angry and wanting to punish the slaves for the most minuscule mistakes.
  • Mose:
  • Storekeeper: originally played by Clark Poth
  • Undertaker: originally played by Howard Negley. The undertakers job was to remove the body. He likes to drink, Yells for Cora to get liquor she doesn't because she doesn't work for him. He is A man who is probably white due to the way he treats Cora.
  • Undertaker's Helper:
  • Mob


Historian Joseph McLaren notes that the play was popular with audiences because they were intrigued by the tragic mulatto theme.[1] Critics, however, were more negative, perhaps in part because director/producer Martin Jones altered much of the plot, moving the play away from tragedy and into melodrama.[1] Melinda D. Wilson notes that Jones's addition of a rape scene may have helped sell tickets, but also may have reinforced stereotypes of violent and promiscuous blacks—the kinds of stereotypes that Negro and Mulatto writers of the time were trying to stamp out.[3]

Literary scholar Germain J. Bienvenu argues that the play also examines the ways Negro/Mulatto people of the time held prejudices against other Negro/Mulattoes.[4]


  1. ^ a b c McLaren, Joseph (1997). Langston Hughes, Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943. Greenwood. pp. 59–78. ISBN 9780313287190.
  2. ^ a b "Mulatto". IBDb: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b Wilson, Melinda D. (2004). "Langston Hughes". In Wintz, Cary D.; Finkelman, Paul (eds.). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance: K-Y. Taylor & Francis. p. 827. ISBN 9781579584580.
  4. ^ Bienvenu, Germain J. (2008). "Intracaste Prejudice in Langston Hughes' Mulatto". In Bloom, Harold (ed.). Langston Hughes. Infobase. pp. 23–40. ISBN 9780791096123.
This page was last edited on 1 September 2020, at 19:53
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