Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Melba J. Boyce


The presence of the mulatto challenged the definition of a pure national identity. The period following emancipation for the once enslaved African, particularly in the United States and Brazil, provided the landscape for the ex-slave to be ‘experimentally’ re-crafted into the national fabric of the Brazil and the U.S. through treatment in the literary landscape of both nations. As the country grappled with the language to affix a national identity to whiteness, the reality of the mulatto complicated these efforts. The emergence of the mulatto jeopardized the ability to form a coherent national identity, given national identity at this point was determined by race, and racial categories were limited to white or black. Considering the mulatto did not fit perfectly into either category, this presented a problem for a purified national identity. Seemingly, the way to eradicate the problem of the mulatto was to relocate, confine, destroy, or eliminate him. Considering these circumstances, this dissertation aims to construct a Pan-Atlantic reading of that literature, by examining the treatment of mulatto characters in the works of Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Jesse Fauset, Aluísio Tancredo Gonçalves de Azevedo, and Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto. As characterized in the literature for this dissertation, this figure of the mulatto embodies a desire to cross cultural (and literary) boundaries. It simultaneously destabilizes and reaffirms racial boundaries. In effect, the literary and cultural construction of the mulatto between 1865 and 1929, in both the U.S. and Brazil is part of a “pan-Atlantic” cultural exchange.

This project aims to extend conversations about all of these artists as individuals and instead look at the transnational discourse that evolved during the gradual emancipation of slaves in the Americas. This project examines how these artists were in conversation with each other through their treatment of a single theme: mulatto.