Authority’s Shadowy Double: Thomas Jefferson and the Architecture of Illegitimacy
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.
KeywordsEurope American Identity Perforation Dine Paral
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