Literature can be used as a tool to tell history. Embedded in poems and short stories are the issues happening back when the time it was created. The poem Mulatto by Langston Hughes and the short story The Sheriff’s Children by Charles Chestnutt both tell something about the American history. Set during the time of slavery and racial discrimination, each of these literary works tells us the story of Mulattoes, the offspring of mixed races. From these literary works, we can see that the life of Mulattoes weren’t easy, as they’re also subject to discrimination and unjust treatment by their white parents.
In the short story The Sheriff’s Children, we learn that Mulatto being kept as a prisoner was the son of the white sheriff (Chestnutt, 2004). The sheriff sold him and his mother out of need, and considered it as a mistake he regrets doing. At this point, we know that the sheriff acknowledges the existence of his son, and he was constantly troubled by his conscience because of his sins from the past, giving life to his Mulatto son who’s now suffering in the hands of the white society.
He wanted to free him from his sufferings in order to redeem himself from the mistakes that he made when he was young. However, his realization came too late, as the Mulatto decided to take his life: a quit exit from a life full of hatred and discrimination. If we use this short story as a basis of American history, we can see that even before racial discrimination was condemned in the society, there were already a lot of people born with mixed race, often by a slave woman and a white man. This is a result of the abuses suffered by black slaves at that time.
They were treated as property, so their male masters could really do whatever they like without thinking of the outcome. In the story, it was the Sheriff who was the master who took advantage of a black slave, and the Mulatto was the unfortunate outcome. Despite having a white father, society was still cruel to Mulattos, as they were treated no differently from their black parents. This part of history was successfully depicted by the story, and was made more interesting because the Sheriff was moved emotionally and he acknowledged that he indeed have a Mulatto son.
This could also depict that people can change and can be open to the idea of coexisting with other races in a fair and just society, just like what we have now. In Langston Hughes’ poem Mulatto, we can see a conversation between a white man and his mulatto son (Hughes, 2003). It was shown in the poem that it was common for a white man to abuse the black slaves, because they’re treated as properties. It was more of satisfying his pleasure, rather than thinking of what his actions might lead to.
He treats the body of his slaves as a toy, and that it would be used accordingly for his joy. The outcome, a mulatto, wouldn’t be regarded as a son or as a brother because his mother’s body was nothing but a toy for the white man. Despite the plea of the son, he would be rejected by the white father. If we use the poem as a basis of American history, we can relate the poem’s meanings to the abuses done to the black slaves before. They were traded, sold, and kept as material things. The toy could be a reference to the manner by which the white masters used their slaves.
They can do whatever they like because they own these slaves. Oftentimes, they’re sexually abused, and this would lead to a mixed race offspring. The plea made by the mulatto boy could be likened to the efforts that they made before. They attended schools, educated themselves to a level equal or even higher than their white counterparts, but still the society didn’t accept them. It was really hard for them to survive and succeed in a society full of white people who looked down upon them. Literature can indeed depict history.
Langston Hughes’ Mulatto and Charles Chestnutt’s The Sheriff’s Children are both successful in telling the story of the abused and discriminated Mulattos. These stories were somehow able to give the readers a glimpse of what it was like back then, when white men see themselves as superior, and black people were treated as property.
Chestnutt, C. (2004). The Sheriff’s Children. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from http://www. geocities. com/short_stories_page/chesnuttsheriff. html Hughes, L. (2003). Mulatto. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from http://www. jotpuree. com/writing/langston_hughes/Mulatto. html