Comparing the Role of the Black in the South in Clotelle and Absalom, Absalom!

analytical Essay
3060 words
3060 words

Role of the Black in the Southern Family as Evidenced in Clotelle and Absalom, Absalom! Southern Literature, more than anything else, is a discussion of the family. And in the family, particularly the Southern family, no question is as pivotal--or causes as many disputes--as "who belongs?" Southern Literature has been, in many ways, a canon of exclusion. From a culture built upon controlling and utilizing an entire race for the express purpose of advancing another, a canon of yearning and despair is left. And in no place is this as clear as within the family, the unit by nature designed to nurture and support--and ultimately overcome. Stereotypically, the family longed for by every Southerner is one of impeccable repute, a white triumph, clean of any African blood, with a heritage predating the Revolution and a lineage reaching beyond the next millennium. Clotelle, by William Wells Brown, is an appeal to the Southern ideal that African-Americans do not and can not fit into the traditional, lily-white aristocratic familial structure which ruled the South during his time--and reigned for many years thereafter. Traditional Southern canon emphasizes the Thomas Sutpens--of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! --who ejects African-Americans from his family (as he attempts to create a new one), and men like the Sheriff of Charles W. Chesnutt's "The Sheriff's Children," who sells a pregnant slave--carrying his unborn mulatto child--into slavery. The advancement and protection of one's name is also highlighted by Sutpen and by Clara Hohlfelder in another Chesnutt tale, "Her Virginia Mammy." These are ideals which Brown understands and resists, and tries--ultimately in vain--to defy. Clotelle does not adjust itself to the tr... ... middle of paper ... ...ildren are born as a result--are disposed of as quietly as possible, in order to keep the familial superstructure as maximally pure as possible. A white man does not marry a slave, or make a respectable woman of her. He keeps her and his child in a shed outside of town, he sends them to New Orleans, or sells them to the rice swamps to toil under the whip for the remainder of their lives. Southern literature excludes the African-American from its families, thus robbing her of her identity and forcing her to become a mere brick in the base below the superstructure. Works Cited Brown, William Wells. Clotelle. Miami: Mnemosyne Publishing, 1969. Chesnutt, Charles W. "Her Virginia Mammy" and "The Sheriff's Children." Collected Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt. New York: Penguin, 1992. 114-148. Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage, 1990.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes the role of the black in the southern family as evidenced in clotelle and absalom.
  • Analyzes how southern literature is a discussion of the family. it's an appeal to the southern ideal that african-americans don't fit into the traditional, lily-white family structure which ruled the south.
  • Analyzes how chesnutt scrutinizes the lines of family, race, and 'place' in society to determine if one can actually have an identity in the turn-of-the-century south.
  • Analyzes how clara hohlfelder hesitates to marry dr. john winthrop because she cannot unearth her own ancestry. she would rather not marry than have her future husband refrain from mentioning his own heritage.
  • Analyzes how thomas sutpen's grandiose attempt at the design is retold through quentin compson, one who comes from a disturbed family.
  • Analyzes how brown's novel of a southern slave, clotelle, does not present the white majority as haunted by their offspring, rather, they are dismissed as products of uncontrollable lust.
  • Explains that henry, as a southerner, cannot escape the southern code of conduct until the child is twelve years old, at which time he demands the custody of her.
  • Analyzes how brown makes one of the most brave and perceptive points of sutpen's novel. the african-american family is wide, constant, and ever-growing.
  • Analyzes how clotelle escapes the trap laid out for her by leaving her extended family of slaves, and enters a world in which she is treated like queen: marriage.
  • Analyzes how the southern canon forms a society with the african-american at its base, and on top of this foundation, it builds it superstructure.
  • Describes the stories of charles w. chesnutt, "her virginia mammy" and "the sheriff's children."
  • Analyzes how tom blames the sheriff for his unfortunate position in the world, and believes that he would not be forced into robbing homes to eat and keep warm. without a family, tom becomes meaningless and inconsolable.
  • Analyzes how sutpen's hundred fails when bon and judith become involved with one another.
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