Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt

Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt

Margaret D. Bauer
Keith Byreman
Martha J. Cutter
SallyAnn H. Ferguson
Donald B. Gibson
Scott Thomas Gibson
Aaron Ritzenberg
Werner Sollors
Susan Prothro Wright
Susan Prothro Wright
Ernestine Pickens Glass
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    Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt
    Book Description:

    Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt is a collection that reevaluates Chesnutt's deft manipulation of the "passing" theme to expand understanding of the author's fiction and nonfiction. Nine contributors apply a variety of theories---including intertextual, signifying/discourse analysis, narratological, formal, psychoanalytical, new historical, reader response, and performative frameworks---to add richness to readings of Chesnutt's works. Together the essays provide convincing evidence that "passing" is an intricate, essential part of Chesnutt's writing, and that it appears in all the genres he wielded: journal entries, speeches, essays, and short and long fiction.The essays engage with each other to display the continuum in Chesnutt's thinking as he began his writing career and established his sense of social activism, as evidenced in his early journal entries. Collectively, the essays follow Chesnutt's works as he proceeded through the Jim Crow era, honing his ability to manipulate his mostly white audience through the astute, though apparently self-effacing, narrator, Uncle Julius, of his popular conjure tales. Chesnutt's ability to subvert audience expectations is equally noticeable in the subtle irony of his short stories. Several of the collection's essays address Chesnutt's novels, including Paul Marchand, F.M.C., Mandy Oxendine, The House Behind the Cedars, and Evelyn's Husband. The volume opens up new paths of inquiry into a major African American writer's oeuvre.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-418-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination
    (pp. 3-8)
    Werner Sollors

    In the past decade or so we have witnessed the republication of pretty much all of Charles W. Chesnutt’s collected and uncollected works and the first printed editions of his unpublished journal, novels, and selected correspondence. (Richard Brodhead, William Andrews, Joseph McElrath et al., Ernestine Pickens, SallyAnn Ferguson, Nancy Bentley, Sandra Gunning, Dean McWilliams, Matthew Wilson, and Judith Jackson have recently edited Chesnutt’s works.) Eric Sundquist’s studyTo Wake the Nationsdevotes a third of the book, a total of about two hundred pages, to Chesnutt—more than to W.E.B. Du Bois or to any other author. Numerous new and...

  6. Signifying the Other Chesnutt’s “Methods of Teaching”
    (pp. 9-22)
    SallyAnn H. Ferguson

    On Thursday evening, November 23, 1882, at the second annual convention of the segregated black North Carolina Teachers Association in Raleigh, North Carolina, twenty-four-year-old Charles W. Chesnutt delivered a speech entitled “Modern Methods of Instruction,” and when he had finished, around ten o’clock, the session was adjourned. The paper appeared in print the following year as part of the association’s annual minutes with its title changed to “Methods of Teaching.” While Chesnutt’s essay reads like a scholarly treatise celebrating the achievements of certain European intellectuals and their work, its misquotations, inclusions, and omissions signal the impact of nineteenth-century racial politics...

  7. On Flags and Fraternities Lessons in History in Charles Chesnutt’s “Po’ Sandy”
    (pp. 23-38)
    Margaret D. Bauer

    When Pat Buchanan remarked several years ago that if there is room for “We shall overcome” in our country, then there is room for the Confederate flag, I was struck again by the obtuseness of his (and others’) failure to see why the flag flown by an army fighting to preserve slavery (albeit among other issues) is offensive not only to the descendants of slaves but also to all who find the institution reprehensible—like writer Reynolds Price, for example, who argues against, simply put, offending others:

    As a white native of Warren County, North Carolina, who was born only...

  8. Passing as Narrative and Textual Strategy in Charles Chesnutt’s “The Passing of Grandison”
    (pp. 39-50)
    Martha J. Cutter

    Charles Chesnutt’s “The Passing of Grandison” (published inThe Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line, 1899) is not properly about “passing” as it was first used in the nineteenth century in the United States, that is, African Americans passing for white or crossing the “color line.” As Werner Sollors has argued, the first usage of the term “passing” appears in notices concerning runaway slaves (255). Richard Hildreth’sThe Slave; or, Memoirs of Archy Moore(1836), for example, reproduces an actual advertisement for two runaway slaves which concludes, “I suspect they have taken the road to...

  9. The Dream of History Memory and the Unconscious in Charles Chesnutt’s The House behind the Cedars
    (pp. 51-66)
    Aaron Ritzenberg

    Dreams circulate throughout Charles Chesnutt’s 1900 novel,The House behind the Cedars. Chesnutt describes the characters’ lives and wishes as dreams, and an entire community reenacts dreamlike fantasies. Indeed, the novel is structured like a dream, driven by uncanny coincidences, strange doublings, and sudden shits in time. As we trace the lives of siblings John and Rena, two light-skinned blacks who pass for white in the Deep South in the years following the Civil War, we move with the characters between black and white societies. Chesnutt’s novel, even as it shows the falsity of a binary racial system, presents a...

  10. In the Wake of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F.M.C. as Command Performance
    (pp. 67-83)
    Susan Prothro Wright

    This essay sets forth the hypothesis that Charles Chesnutt attempted to publish his novelPaul Marchand, 1921, with goal of countering D. W. Griffith’sThe Birth of a Nation(1915), the incendiary film version of Thomas Dixon’s equally racist novel,The Clansman(1905), a depiction of the Reconstruction South. Substantiating this hypothesis is relevant to Chesnutt scholarship in general as well as to the further exploration ofPaul Marchand, F.M.C.: not only does it help to answer questions about Chesnutt’s decision to submit a novel for publication so long after the publication of his final ill-fated novel,The...

  11. Performing Race Mixed-Race Characters in the Novels of Charles Chesnutt
    (pp. 84-92)
    Keith Byerman

    The passage above, from Chesnutt’s 1900 article “The Future American,” offers a legal (and legalistic) description of race that dovetails nicely with current discussions of that concept as a social construction. In this sense, it is also clearly relevant to a discussion ofHouse behind the Cedars, published the same year as the essay, as well asPaul Marchand, written twenty years later. What I believe interested Chesnutt in these stipulations of racial identity is what might be called their reasoned arbitrariness. One’s status, with regard to legal restrictions and privileges, varied by state, time period, and, in the case...

  12. A Question of Passing or a Question of Conscience Toward Resolving the Ending of Mandy Oxendine
    (pp. 93-109)
    Donald B. Gibson

    Many who have written about Charles Chesnutt’s first known novel,Mandy Oxendine, unpublished during the author’s lifetime, have discussed its ending, an ending somewhat problematical because it invites the reader to speculate about what happens to its main characters after the novel’s close. The narrator, who could know and tell us what happens, had Chesnutt chosen to allow him to do so, simply does not say. Rather he gives us alternatives about what might have happened, refusing to provide any certainties relating to Tom Lowrey and Mandy’s future. Chesnutt does, however, control the character and direction of what we do...

  13. “They Were All Colored to the Life” Historicizing “Whiteness” in Evelyn’s Husband
    (pp. 110-126)
    Scott Thomas Gibson

    In his introduction toWhiteness in the Novels of Charles W. Chesnutt, Matthew Wilson asserts that Chesnutt “strove [in his writing] for a universal subject position that he perceived as outside of race” (xvii). Indeed, an aspiring Chesnutt refers to himself in his journal as an author who writes primarily “for the people with whom I am connected—for humanity!” (Journalsxvii).¹ From the beginning of his career he had no interest in being pigeonholed as a “Negro” writer, which, in the eyes of the white literary establishment and his white readership, meant severe limitations on what was considered appropriate...

  14. Contributors
    (pp. 127-129)
  15. Index
    (pp. 130-132)