Authority’s Shadowy Double: Thomas Jefferson and the Architecture of Illegitimacy

  • Helena Holgersson-Shorter
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)


The “tragic mulatto,” common throughout colonial and postcolonial fiction, is a figure whose “tragedy” of perpetual displacement is ultimately subversive. As the embodiment of two theoretically irreconcilable opposites, the mulatto’s presence threatens individual autonomy and identity by forcing the members of each group to recognize the familiarity of the rejected other. The mulatto often functions implicitly or explicitly as a community scapegoat, since his or her characteristic illegitimacy axiomatically affirms the legitimacy of the other members of society, her displacement ensuring that everything and everyone else is in place. Mulatto writers from different cultures and time periods such as Harriet Jacobs, Nella Larsen, and Mayotte Capécia have utilized the subversive potential of the displaced, tragic mulatto to interrogate notions of national or communal identity. This chapter looks at how the mulatto’s use as agent of irony or subversion has roots in the original discourse of mastery.


Subversive Potential Female Albino Real Father Textual Authority Albino White 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Works Cited

  1. Brodie, Fawn. Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1974.Google Scholar
  2. Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge, 1993.Google Scholar
  3. Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XVII, An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works. Ed. James Strachey London: The Hogarth Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  4. Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. Oeuvres Complètes de Buffon, avec les Suites. Nouvelle Édition, Tome Troisième. Paris: Chez E.L.C. Mauprivez, Éditeur, 1836.Google Scholar
  5. Gordon-Reed, Annette. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1997.Google Scholar
  6. Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. Ed. William Peden. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1955.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helena Holgersson-Shorter

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations