Essay about The Character Message in The Conjure Tales of Charles W. Chesnutt

Essay about The Character Message in The Conjure Tales of Charles W. Chesnutt

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Going back over the Goophered Grapevine and Po Sandy in "The Conjure Tales of Charles W. Chesnutt," I want to unfold the message Chesnutt is portraying through particular characters in these stories. Is the message the critics see, the same as the reader? I feel like Chesnutt contradicts himself in the conjure tales. By this I mean that he comes off to the reader as one thing, but he is interpreted by literary critics as something else. I think the reason that Chesnutt's work seems contradictory is because he has many voices throughout the stories and it is hard for the reader to distinguish which voice belongs to Chesnutt. Should these stories be looked upon as mere entertainment or as something else?

According to Richard E. Baldwin, the main problem for early black writers such as Chesnutt was their audience. "The problem of the black experience in America arose from the refusal of the whites to perceive black experience accurately, and the artist's task was not simply to present the truth to the white minds, but to change those minds so that they could perceive the humanity of the black and the inhumanities which he suffered in America (Chesnutt, 346)." According to Baldwin, "whites had to be trained to perceive black experience from the black point of view," or black literature wouldn't be understood (Chesnutt, 346). I agree that the experience of the blacks had to be understood by whites in order for black people's experience to change. To me, this is hard to do without giving off the stereotypes that are perceived in the white community. This is where Chesnutt's characters come into play. Are they breaking the stereotypes or upholding them? According to David D. Britt, the conjure "stories are deliberately structured to a...


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Therefore, the use of these characters confuses the reader even more. Whose concepts of the tales are more believing, John, Annie or Julius? The concept of slavery is unclear and this leaves the reader grasping for the meaning behind the conjure tales. Chesnutt's message behind the tales should have been clearly defined. If his purpose according to some critics is to "elevate whites," then what is he really trying to do in these conjure tales? The concept of using Julius to break stereotypes of black Americans is a little farfetched. This goal is not accomplished in neither of the conjure tales. The stereotypes are upheld in these tales. Chesnutt doesn't seem to "elevate" the whites; instead he is reaffirming their beliefs toward blacks. This doesn't help the black community if Chesnutt is trying to change condition of blacks through his writings.

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