Brown’s characters show the dynamics of antebellum Southern society. He portrays African American women of biracial ancestry, the Southern slave-owning class, Northern white liberals, and the community of black bond servants.
Clotel’s characterization reflects the numerous conditions of bondage for biracial females in the nineteenth century. Her portrayal is used to suggest the ironies and contradictions of American democracy, in that she is presented as the daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Sixteen years old at the opening of the novel, Clotel is described by Brown as an attractive “quadroon” much sought after at “Negro balls” by white male gentry. The tragic course of her life begins with the breakup of her family, dramatizing the dehumanization of chattel slavery and the auction block. Clotel is also portrayed in a love relationship with Horatio Green, who purchases her as his concubine. Green’s rejection of Clotel in order to marry a white woman produces a deep emotional reaction in Clotel.
A concern for familial connections is a major part of Clotel’s characterization. Her longing to be reunited with her daughter Mary motivates Clotel’s escape, which ends in Clotel’s suicide when she is tracked down by slave catchers.
Currer, Clotel’s mother, also reflects a concern for family stability. Forty years of age when the novel begins, she is described by Brown as a mother whose principal concern is the advancement of her daughters. Currer realizes that advancement is based on physical appearance. Currer symbolizes the vicissitudes of bondage for aging African American mothers; she never loses sight of her mission to free her daughters and reunite her family.
Currer’s younger daughter, Althesa, who is fourteen when the novel opens, ends up in New Orleans, where she is sold in the slave...
(The entire section is 757 words.)