Following the Civil War, just prior to the turn of the century, many
American novelist were writing more freely of the previous slave culture. Two
of these writers being Mark Twain and Charles Chesnutt. Mark Twain was a
popular “white” author by this time. Charles Chesnutt, the son of free blacks,
decided to pursue a dream of becoming an author in order to remove the spirit of
racism. By studying these authors in particular, the views of a white raised in
the slave holding south are juxtaposed with the views of free black. Both Twain
and Chesnutt satirize whites in different ways through their literature. Twain
also displays some unfavorable preconceptions of blacks. This can be attributed
to his own upbringing in the slave holding south.
The main character of the Chesnutt stories is an old Negro man,
previously a slave, who engages his new white employers in many tales about life
on the plantation. Uncle Julius relays these stories with much detail. Though,
at the conclusion of each, the reader is left wondering whether the tale was
true or if Uncle Julius had conceived of it merely to satisfy his own desires.
Chesnutt has added to the end of each story an ulterior motive of Uncle Julius
that seems to be met by the telling of his tales. By doing this, Chesnutt
discretely satirizes whites in general.
In the first story, The Goophered Grapevine, Uncle Julius tells of a
conjure woman putting a “goopher” on the grapevines, causing all blacks that eat
the grapes to die within one year. This story is relayed upon the first meeting
of the northern white couple (John and Annie) and the native South Carolinian.
After telling his tale of Henry and the others that suffered from this spell,
Uncle Julius concludes that these northerners should not buy this vineyard,
adding conveniently that he is not afraid to eat the grapes because he know the “
ole vimes fum de noo ones.”
John decides to buy the farm in spite of Uncle Julius's warnings, but he
does offer him employment as a coachman. It seems as if Uncle Julius had been
trying to guarantee his usefulness on the plantation even after its sale. Was
white man tricked into believing Julius' knowledge would be useful in the
renewing of the vineyards? Chesnutt lets the reader wonder, but regardless of
his tale being ...
... middle of paper ...
... of blacks, especially her own black
heritage. When scolding her son Tom for refusing to challenge the twins, Roxy
blames his cowardice on “de nigger” in him. After noting all of the predominant
white members of his pedigree, she concludes that “de nigger” is his soul.
Twain seems to have some assumptions of his own that blacks have no pride
in their own heritage.
Twain and Chesnutt both satirize whites, but in different ways. Twain,
being a white, satirizes the slave holding south, rather than whites in general.
Chesnutt, on the other hand, uses a couple from the north in a story set in the
free south. Chesnutt also is more descrete in his satire, while Twain pokes fun
directly. Twain also displays some of his own prejudices, being a white trying
to explain the black culture. On the contrary, Chesnutt honestly portrays
blacks from an inside perspective. Roxy was ashamed of the black blood in her,
while Uncle Julius seemed to be a proud old man, happy to tell of his black
friends and past. From the analysis these literary selections we can gain a
greater understanding of racial views but, one may say that everything is not as
simple as black and white
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