Staged after the death of the lovers and their father, and the loss of the family lands and fortune, María asks the reader to mourn a world that felt moribund well before its passing. The noble characters seem marked for death: María suffers from the epilepsy that also felled her mother, and Efraín’s father spends a large part of the novel convalescing from the nearly fatal fever that beset him upon receiving dire financial news. Noble, African-born slaves are also part of this receding world, while Creole working classes and less traditional elites exude energy and life. It is possible to see a mestizo “nation” arising here, bound across racial and lines by love, of each other and of the land, and by memory. This reading, however, does not entirely account for the tensions around race and sexuality the writing evinces, or adequately explain why the marriage that would remedy the family fortune as well as unite the lovers, is so much deferred. And if the old elites are symbolically killed off in this novel, in O Mulato it is the mulatto class that suffers this fate.
These writings chronicle rupture and and loss at least as much as interracial union or suture; they might more accurately be considered novels of originary violence than of national conciliation. The reader witnesses a shift within the modernizing state, but not a challenge to its hierarchies. The national projects Sommer sees are indeed present in these texts, but anxieties about race, gender and social control are also present on every page; it is my contention that these and other writings from the period engage questions of mestizaje and nation at one level, and race and state at another. The texts in question may embody struggles over racial meaning in the modernizing state, and they may not move unidirectionally toward democratization or other forms of “progress.” Comparative scholarship working beyond the frame of the nation may help elucidate these complexities, and also shed light on some of ambiguities and impasses present-day discourse on race inherits from this era. It will also help us theorize race itself, not just the form of racialist discourse we have come to call mestizaje.