He wants to use the front door and shake hands with his father. This does seem to be an ironic form of racism in which a young man who shares the blood of two races, chooses his white blood over his black blood and is doomed to die for his choice because whites believe that his portion of black blood makes him inferior to them. Whether or not we consider Bert's disowning of his black side as intracaste racism, it is obvious that racism has a strong effect on mixed blood children. As one critic puts it, "the psychological impact of miscegenation" will often be overwhelming in "children born of forced interracial liaisons."
Mulatto children often develop "identity problems" which, in turn, "adversely affect their social behavior and their personal self-esteem" (Barksdale, 193). In Mulatto Hughes shows the varying effects of mixed blood and racists feeling toward miscegenation on the children of Cora and the Colonel.
Another aspect of racism that comes across loud and clear in Mulatto is the violence that racial hatred provokes in the South. The threat and fear of violence must always be present for blacks where racial relations are concerned. For Hughes, as one critic puts it, "The South's penchant for racial violence" is another "important area of concern" (Barksdale, 193). As the editor of Five Plays points out, Mulatto is the only play in the book in which a white character is "more than peripheral" (Smalley xi), and none of the white characters are the least bit appealing. To emphasize the threat of racial violence, Hughes method is obvious, "continually":
grotesque white characters come in and out of the play like ogres, ready to pounce upon nonwhite victims at the slightest provocation (Bienvenu 341).
Thus we see that among the themes Hughes embodies in Mulatto that reveal the extreme racism of the deep South are "white racists who defend their notion of supremacy" (Bienvenu 341) and "interracial amours and Negro education." All these aspects of racism are concerned with firmly held attitudes of whites that actually "largely concern actions of whites" (Gates 193).
Three of the plays in Five Plays are comedies. Hughes is a master at conveying his message about racism even in comedy. As Smalley puts it in his introduction to the plays: "The triple specters of poverty, ignorance, and repression can be seen not far beneath the surface of the comedy" (Smalley xii). The editor of Five Plays accounts for Hughes's characters obsessions with the numbers racket, dream books and the hot goods man in Little Ham, Simple's comic bit about no Negro having seen a flying saucer, and attitudes toward the religion business in Tambourines to Glory by describing them as comic presentations showing the "the poverty, the ignorance and the superstition that prevail in the world of which Hughes writes" (Smalley xii). Under the comedy there is always the serious purpose of exposing the fruits of racism. As one reviewer said: "underlying all that laughter...there is the terrifying and tragic thread of life where there is no hope" (Rampersad 326).
In his biography of Hughes, Rampersad says that in Soul Gone Home, which he calls a "macabre little play," Hughes vents his anger at his mother. In this play "a dead son sits up at his wake to confront his mother, evidently a cheap whore, with charges of hypocrisy and negligence" (Rampersad 319). Whether or not the play is about Hughes's relationship with his own mother, it displays a mother whose emotional capacities have been deadened by racism. To her not "decent dead" son who asks, "Why did you have me in the first place?" she replies:
How could I help havin' you little bastard? Your father ruint me -- and you's the result. And I been worried with you for sixteen years. (Disgustedly) Now, Just when you get big enough to work and do me some good, you have to go and die. (Hughes Soul Gone Home 41)
Implied here is the poverty, ignorance, and suffering that go with racism. As the editor of Five Plays describes it, "Soul Gone Home bristles with implications and reverberates with connotations. That which is unsaid becomes almost more important than what is put into the dialogue. The repressive dominance of the white culture is suggested only by the arrival of the ambulance attendants, who are