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

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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...

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...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.

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