Date of Award

Spring 2018

Degree Type

Honors Project



First Advisor

Dr. James Jesson


Blackface was an extremely popular and pervasive performance type unique to nineteenth century American performance. For years, the black characters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Octoroon were played by white actors in blackface makeup whereas mixed-raced characters were presented as white. These two plays, each having played a role in affecting public opinion toward slavery, do not stand out from the tradition of blackface minstrelsy and, subsequently, take part in subjugating black entertainers in the realm of theatre as well as society. The playwrights borrowed conventions of contemporary theatrical performance in order to cater to the tastes of their white audiences. Each writer created a narrative that balanced depictions of dignified and undignified African-American characters with the general public consciousness of white superiority. The lack of dignity in the secondary black characters serves to perpetuate an idea of authentic blackness and offset the dignified characteristics of the protagonists as anomalies.