Essay about Charles Chestnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition

Essay about Charles Chestnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition

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Charles Chestnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition


Based on historical events, Charles Chestnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, gives human details to produce a vivid picture of life in the south after the failure of reconstruction. His work has many underlying themes among which are the use of the press to stir already volatile emotions through propaganda, class structure not only along color lines but within races, and the effects of the white supremacists’ agenda on the integrity of those who claimed to be morally advanced. Through this story, Chesnutt allows the reader to enter the minds of the characters to show how change will not take place until both whites and blacks detach themselves from traditions that seem to be engraved on their bones.

     This piece of historical fiction begins with the birth of Major Carteret’s son. Chesnutt describes the Carteret family as being the picture of southern aristocracy. Like many plantation families, the Carteret family had been financial devastated by the Civil War. The Major now lived in his wife’s family home and began his endeavor as owner and editor of the “Morning Chronicle.” Now that he had someone to carry on his family name, his view of the future and his goals where to create a better future for his son, and he believed it was through white supremacy that this was possible. Major Carteret uses his position to promote his agenda.

     It is in the character of Major Carteret that the author demonstrates how the media was misused to publish propaganda that would give rise to hate and violence against the Negro community. One example of this theme is found when the Major, Captain Mebane, and General Belmont discuss the reprinting of an article first published in a Negro paper about lynch laws (85). Knowing that in the Negro paper few whites would read it, they plan to reprint the article with some carefully worded commentary with the intention of invoking emotions that would enrage the white population. They would plan this around Election Day causing many black men to not exorcise their right to vote for fear of violence; thus changing the outcome of the election.

Another example following the theme of the power of the press to provoke the masses concerns the murder of Polly Ochiltree, a white woman and Olivia’s aunt. As soon as the news of her death was known, the three conspiring southerners, Majo...


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...ame to legitimacy of Sam’s married to his wife’s former servant Julia, she buried the truth. She illegally hid Sam’s will, sent Julia packing, and robbed Janet, Olivia’s half sister, of her rightful inheritance.

Another buried truth concerned Mr. Delmare’s grandson. When it was discovered that Tom was responsible for the death of Aunt Polly, the same men that were ready to Lynch Sandy for the same crime, stated publicly that the criminal could not be found. In the name of honor, Tom was never tried for his crime. Tom inherited his grandfather’s estate regardless of a new Will Mr. Delmare had drawn up just before he died leaving a considerable sum to his faithful servant Sandy and the rest to Dr. Miller’s hospital.

Charles Chesnutt wrote The Marrow of Tradition to shed truth on the conditions Negroes were live under. Many criticized him for his honest portrayal of both black and white characters, but he put into words what others would not voice. Although blacks were no longer legally slaves, they were far from attaining the type of liberty penned by the writers of the constitution. Not until the civil rights movement would enough African American’s stand for their rights.

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Essay about Charles Chestnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition

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