During a long period of time the institute of slavery in such country as the United States of America was considered as the main controversial issue which influenced the social, economical, and political development of the state greatly. Slaves as the part of the society had not any rights, and their rebellions became more frequent.
Definite states voted for the abolition of slavery, the Haitian Revolution developed, but the public and politicians in the country were not ready to reject the principles of slavery on which the economics and social life were based. In 1837 “The Mulatto”, a short story written by Victor Sejour in French, was published in Paris.
It was the first story written by an African-American writer in which the negative effects of slavery were criticized and discussed from the social and psychological perspectives with accentuating the slaves’ emotions and feelings as the reactions toward their masters’ violent actions. To analyze Victor Sejour’s style peculiarities, it is necessary to concentrate on the author’s presentation of the conflict in the story, characters’ depiction, and usage of irony.
Victor Sejour’s short story can be considered as one of the most deep psychological discussions of the phenomenon of slavery with paying much attention to slaves’ inner world, their emotions, and feelings. Sejour’s story is based on the social conflict between masters and slaves which was typical for that period of time.
However, Sejour develops this conflict with focusing on the psychological aspect of the relations between masters and slaves. The author represents his position toward the slaves’ state and their conditions through the words of the teller of the main character’s story, “a negro’s as vile as a dog; society rejects him; men detest him; the laws curse him…Yes, he’s a most unhappy being, who hasn’t even the consolation of always being virtuous” (Sejour 354).
The plot conflict of the story is developed around the issues of sexual harassment, the master’s brutality, race discrimination, and slaves’ exploitation. All the aspects are depicted with the help of focusing on the relations of the main characters who are Georges, a mulatto slave, and his master Alfred. Thus, their difficult and tense relations form the main opposition of the story which is described by the author with using the elements of the psychological characterization.
Victor Sejour makes a lot of accents on the analysis of Georges and Alfred’s characters. Georges is depicted as a man who tries to learn the peculiarities of his birth because of the fact he does not know his father. “Georges grew up without ever hearing the name of his father; and when at times, he attempted to penetrate the mystery surrounding his birth, his mother remained inflexible, never yielding to his entreaties” (Sejour 356).
Moreover, his life is full of suffering caused by his master Alfred’ humiliations. Alfred is presented as a rather brutal and hideous master who can do everything to reach his goal without paying attention to the other people’s wishes. He believes that slaves have no right to reject his desires. That is why his brutal intentions toward Georges’ wife became the start for the chain of events which break the lives of the master and his slaves.
The author gives the through psychological presentation of the characters in several words focusing on their actions and the narrator’s commentaries on them in which the readers can hear Sejour’s voice. Sejour is quite strict in his considerations of the slaves’ position in society. Georges and his family are victims of the social discrimination supported by the development of the principles of slavery in the country. Moreover, slavery is the cause for Georges’ unknowing his father, the death of his mother and wife.
The author’s tone of the short story can be described as rather sarcastic with the elements of irony. Nevertheless, it is impossible to say about the typical usage of irony in the text because Victor Sejour develops a tragedy of slavery as a social phenomenon which breaks people’s life in his work with accentuating the most controversial aspects of this issue.
The author presents the most vivid ironic words in the story which emphasize the tragedy of the depicted events with the help of Georges as the main character who is in the center of the conflict. “Master, isn’t it horrible to die when you’re happy; to lie down in the grave at the moment you see your fondest dreams coming true” (Sejour 363). This phrase represents all the pain which is familiar not only to Georges but also to all the slaves whose families suffer from their masters’ violence.
Victor Sejour published “The Mulatto” in 1837 when the problem of slavery was widely discussed by white people who argued for and against this social institute, but the position of free African-Americans on the question was not examined because of their lack of rights to change something. However, Sejour was not silent and became the first African-American writer who developed this question in his story and openly criticized the phenomenon of slavery.
Sejour, Victor. “The Mulatto”. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 2004. 353-365. Print.