James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography Of An Ex-Colored Man

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Within the context of African American literature, there is a common portrayal of a self-conscious narrator who takes on a quest for his or her own self-definition. This portrayal is frequently led by the so-called mulatto, a character of mixed background who is passing and has this ability to be able to cross over the coloured line to the white side. However, this white passing comes with a heavy internal conflict and this struggle for self-identity is captured in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. James Weldon Johnson epitomizes the struggles that a mixed-race protagonist would experience as he crosses the social boundary from the coloured side to the white side. Through this portrayal of a mixed race coloured man, Johnson is able to portray two well established literary troupes within African American literature: the tragic mulatto and the ex-slave narrative.…show more content…
This allows for the novel to expand upon and revise the basic themes and motifs of previous traditions and to further examine the issues that lie within the mulatto’s designated space. Throughout The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man there are four main ideas that the overall story can be condensed down to: namelessness, the importance of outwards appearance, movement or the lack thereof, and attitude toward family and acceptance. The stereotype of the tragic mulatto stemmed from authors attempting to win the sympathy of readers by creating characters who were physically like them (Brown, 8). By approaching these four main ideas with the lens of the tragic mulatto and slave narrative troupe, the text approaches a single conclusion in that the Ex-Colored Man can not achieve a satisfying sense of self-identification with either of his two sides and ultimately fails to truly belong to
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