Afro Am Lit
In the 10 years between the publication of "The Goophered Grapevine," Chesnutt's first conjure tale, and the composition of "The Dumb Witness," the development of segregation culture had even more firmly cemented the popular notions of black and white identifies in the United States. (Robison 61) Charles Chesnutt is credited as a pro-black writer for first being an African-American writer and then presenting the African-American experience for the further humanizing of blacks in the United States. Much of Chesnutt’s work was drawn from his own experience as a fair-skinned black person as revealed by Mary Zeigler in her article, "History And Background Of The Charles W. Chesnutt Commemorative Stamp" (Zeigler). But while Chesnutt’s book, “The Conjure Woman” does address problems such as “slavery, miscegenation, and racism” as also pointed out in Zeigler’s article, what has to be considered is the actual work that the text is doing, how the actual words are placed in the text, how the characters are portrayed, and what ideals are actually being enforced or discouraged (Zeigler). In order to consider these things, what also must be considered is the social and political environment, the text’s audience and the perception of the audience. “The Goophered Grapevine” specifically, should be carefully looked at because after analyzing the text, this particular short story does not completely accomplish the pro-black “work” that it is credited for. What does the United States look like in 1887 when “The Goophered Grapevine” was first published in “The Atlantic Monthly?” The Civil War is still causing an extreme amount of contention between the North and the South. Slavery ended just one generation prior so sharecropping persists in ex-slave states and all of the stereotypes and ideals about blacks are still completely in tact. In fact, blacks were arguably worse off than they were as slaves during this period in a physical context because without them being considered property, there was no one with resources that cared at all for their survival and it would take a little while longer for blacks to obtain some type of footing; particularly in the South. With just these few considerations, the question is raised, as it was by Bill Hardwig, “Why does he introduce his entire collection of conjure stories, and the first story he ever published, with such a familiar and harmful depiction of his principle African-American character?” (Hardwig). Or even worse is the contrast that Uncle Julius represents next to John. Let’s first look at Uncle Julius for just a second as he enters the text. One end of the log was already occupied by a venerable-looking colored man. He held on his knees a hat full of grapes, over which he was smacking his lips with great gusto, and a pile of grape-skins near him indicated that the performance was no new thing. (Chesnutt) We are given this old, black man “smacking his lips” and “with great gusto” no less on stolen grapes, sitting on a log in the country. This image invokes the same stereotypical country black male reading today that it definitely would have in 1887. On the other hand, we are given John and his wife that speak an almost parody-like “standard American English” that is to the liking of the dialect in Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey.” John is successful, savvy and a part of a polite society that may not even have been common for most white Americans at that time. In the first paragraph we get speech like this from John, our narrator; A cordial invitation to visit him while I looked into the matter was accepted. We found the weather delightful at that season, the end of the summer, and were most hospitably entertained. Our host placed a horse and buggy at our disposal, and himself acted as guide until I got somewhat familiar with the country. (Chesnutt) This demonstration is not to make the statement that dialect or the education...
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Hovet, Theodore R. "Chesnutt 's "The Goophered Grapevine" As Social Criticism." Negro American Literature Forum 7.3 (1973): 86-88. JSTOR Arts & Sciences I. Web. 19 July 2012.
Murphy, Cullen. "The Atlantic Online | A History of The Atlantic Monthly." A History of The Atlantic Monthly. The Atlantic, 1994. Web. 18 July 2012.
Robison, LoriWolfe, Eric. "Charles Chesnutt 's "The Dumb Witness" And The Culture Of Segregation." African American Review 42.1 (2008): 61. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 19 July 2012.
Williams, Patricia A. R., and Earl Paulus Murphy. "Charles Waddell Chesnutt." Critical Survey Of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition (2001): 1-5. Literary Reference Center. Web. 19 July 2012.
Zeigler, Mary B. "History And Background Of The Charles W. Chesnutt Commemorative Stamp." Studies In The Literary Imagination 43.2 (2010): 1-4. Literary Reference Center. Web. 18 July 2012.
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