Mules and Dragons: Popular Culture Images in the Selected Writings of African-American and Chinese-American Women Writers

By Mary E. Young | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
Mammies, Mulattas, Sluts,
and Sapphires

Representations of the African-American slave woman as breeder and sexual object, as farm worker, or domestic and industrial laborer do not seem to exist in the early literature of the United States. No literary portraits, either authentic or distorted, were drawn of African-American women for almost two centuries after their arrival in Jamestown, Virginia.

In Virginia, the 1624-1625 census showed the presence of twenty-three Africans: eleven males, ten females, and two children. This group of Africans was probably the last to enter and work in the United States as indentured servants. Within a short time, their status and their lives would be restricted by ever more stringent and repressive legislation, which, while constricting African-American men, even further constrained African-American women.

Before long, several state legislatures had adopted the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, that is, the child inherits the condition of the mother. With this ruling, the African female in the American colonies acquired a new status. Planters recognized that they could more quickly amass necessary capital by breeding the African slave women. As a result, enforced breeding of Africans became the norm.

The African woman did not freely accept another's control of her body just as she did not freely accept slavery; she had to be prepared for it, and this preparation began in Africa. The African economy during the seventeenth century was based on agriculture, which in some areas nearly approached the complexity of the plantation system in the Southern states. The traditional African agricultural and social systems required that

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Mules and Dragons: Popular Culture Images in the Selected Writings of African-American and Chinese-American Women Writers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Women's Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter One "John Chinaman" As "Sambo" 1
  • Notes 19
  • Chapter Three The Female Response: Harriet E. Wilson To Alice Walker 47
  • Chapter Four Dragon Ladies, Susie Wongs, And Passive Dolls 81
  • Chapter Five Sui Sin Far to Amy Tan 109
  • Chapter Six African-Americans And Chinese-Americans 133
  • Selected Bibliography 149
  • Index 155
  • About the Author 158
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