“Mulatto,” written by Langston Hughes in the summer of 1926, appeared both in The Saturday Review of Literature and in Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), a collection of Hughes’s work. Hughes said that the poem is about “white fathers and Negro mothers in the South.”
The opening voice in “Mulatto” is that of the son, who says, “I am your son, white man!” The child stands in judgment of the father’s use of the mother’s body. The white father renounces the mixed-blood son (lines 5 and 6): “You are my son/ Like hell!” The next twenty lines of “Mulatto” re-create the image of the white man exploiting the Negro woman. The white man asks twice within the sketch, “What’s the body of your mother?” He has answered the question rhetorically, that the boy’s mother’s body is a toy.
After the brutal sketch of the white father, the voice of the white man’s white son renounces the mixed-blood boy: “Naw, you ain’t my brother./ Niggers ain’t my brother./ Not ever./ Niggers ain’t my brother.” Racism has pitted father against son and brother against brother. Another voice, probably the father’s (though it could be the white son’s), tells the mulatto, “Git on back there in the night,/ You ain’t white.” The final words are spoken by the mulatto boy to the white man. He repeats his opening words. “I am your son, white man!”
The poem is lyrical and contrasts the warmth of...
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