“A living death”: gothic signification and the nadir in The Marrow of Tradition – Charles W. Chesnutt – Critical Essay
In his letter to Walter Hines Page dated 22 March 1899, Charles W. Chesnutt expressed dismay at the steady erosion of blacks’ civil rights in turn-of-the-century America. Referring specifically to North Carolina’s adoption of the “grandfather” clause that had been used to disenfranchise black male residents of several southern states, a law the Supreme Court upheld in Williams v. Mississippi (1898), Chesnutt worried about the growing hostilities confronting black Americans. In language that displays mistrust of the jurisprudential wisdom of the nation’s highest court, Chesnutt finds its decision to be but one more abuse of blacks:
the Supreme Court of the United States is a dangerous place for a
colored man to seek justice. He may go there with maimed rights; he
is apt to come away with none at all, and with an adverse decision
shutting out even the hope of any future protection there; for the
doctrine of stare decisis [the legal doctrine stipulating adherence
to precedence] is as strongly intrenched [sic] there as the hopeless
superiority of the Anglo-Saxon is in the Southern States. (“To Be an
As this passage makes clear, by the late 1890s, and especially following Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Chesnutt, like many African Americans, found the Supreme Court tacitly sympathetic to racist southern legislation. Beginning with the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873 and continuing up through Williams v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court proved unwilling to overturn state laws that, it argued, only made possible the infringement of constitutional rights but did not target any particular group to suffer discrimination (Sundquist 237, 421). By deferring to states’ rights throughout post-Reconstruction, the Supreme Court in effect allowed the persistent and deliberate hollowing out of black civil rights gained in the Reconstruction amendments.
For Chesnutt, the fact that the Supreme Court had upheld Mississippi’s “outrageously unjust and unconstitutional law” travestied the promise of Emancipation and revealed the Court to be a place of disheartening mystification (“To Be an Author” 121). That a black person, in seeking from the Supreme Court redress for “maimed fights,” might “come away with none at all,” demonstrated the Court’s role in restoring the political and social conditions of a quasi-slavery (emphasis added). As Eric J. Sundquist describes, blacks faced a return to a “second slavery” without the Court’s protection of their constitutional rights (228). Moreover, as Chesnutt’s comment underscores, because of stare decisis, “an adverse decision” by the Supreme Court effectively “[shut] out even the hope of any future protection,” thus threatening not just to recuperate white oppression of blacks but to make it a permanent feature of Jim Crow America.
The prospect of permanent confinement to a second-class status made post-Reconstruction America the “nadir” moment for blacks. (1) Lacking legal protection of their recently won civil rights, African Americans confronted the specter of the antebellum South. In the same year that Chesnutt wrote to Page, he published The Conjure Woman (1899), a collection of thematically related stories that depicted the conditions of slave life on several neighboring North Carolina plantations. Hoping to counter the plantation nostalgia popularized by writers such as Thomas Nelson Page and Thomas Dixon, Chesnutt appropriated the local color dialect story to feature the oppressive brutality of the Old South’s “peculiar institution.” Through their representation of slavery’s dehumanization of blacks, the stories deromanticize the bygone southern idyll and haunt the post-Reconstruction South with its repressed history.
Chesnutt’s representation of conjure as a black folk-belief system involving the supernatural and giving agency to black resistance has generated analyses of The Conjure Woman as gothic fiction. In his discussion of the story collection, Robert Hemenway argues that slavery can be seen as “an extreme form of Gothic entrapment” (113). In this view Hemenway is not alone: several recent critics have claimed the representation of slavery as entrapment in extremis to be a generative condition for the American gothic. (2) Hemenway shows how The Conjure Woman reverses the racist color-coding of traditional gothic signification by aligning innocence with blackness and corruption with whiteness. This realignment, he contends, generates a gothic tropics grounded in American slavery, with (southern) whites cast as evil persecutors and blacks as their persecuted victims. In doing this, Chesnutt replaces an alien “Gothic psychology” inherited from Europe with a “Gothic sociology” that is distinctly American (Hemenway 101). “The demonic function in the stories,” Hemenway writes, “is performed by white men who perpetuate the institution of slavery, becoming so many demons to the Black men and women who suffer from their zeal” (118).
Hemenway describes at length the salience of The Conjure Woman’s gothic elements, yet he finally concludes that gothic narration remained “inadequate” to Chesnutt’s larger literary project (101). As a prosperous middle-class African American, Chesnutt appreciated conjure as a cultural form that had enabled blacks to survive slavery but which was destined to wither as African Americans became better educated, joined the ranks of the upwardly mobile, and gradually put the experience of slavery behind them. Chesnutt’s gothic figuration, according to Hemenway, was designed to locate conjure historically as an expression of slave culture, that is, as something safely distanced in the past (119). (3) Even when figured as a means of resisting the brutality of slavery, conjure jeopardized black identity because it showcased an African American primitivism that resonated in the white (supremacist) imagination as savagery. For someone who viewed literature as the medium by which to display hard-working, law-abiding middle-class blacks and thereby effect white acceptance of former slaves and their descendants as citizens (if not equals), supernatural subject matter could only be represented as a thing of the past.
Chesnutt’s subsequent realist fictions give credence to Hemenway’s contention that he ultimately abandoned the gothic mode. In his novels following The Conjure Woman, Chesnutt focused on turn-of-the-century race relations, exploring the subject primarily through the experience of the black middle class. Yet despite the dispassionate, detailed portraits of contemporary social life presented in his later novels, gothic signification remained central to Chesnutt’s literary project. Though it features no conjure, The Marrow of Tradition (1901) refashions The Conjure Woman’ s debunking of the plantation myth to expose the terrors unleashed in the white supremacist campaign to regain Paradise Lost. Like its predecessor, The Marrow of Tradition contests the prevailing self-representation of the post-Reconstruction South by illuminating its silences. (4) In portraying the discursive production of white racial purity that demonizes blacks and licenses various forms of white supremacist violence, Chesnutt reveals turn-of-the-century southern black life to be, as one black woman described in a letter to him, “a living death” (“To Be an Author” 121). As this essay will show, gothic tropes figure crucially in The Marrow of Tradition’s novelization of the nadir as a reconstituted slavery.
My intent is not to argue that The Marrow of Tradition is a gothic text, but rather to examine the role that gothic figuration plays in this novel. That a realist fiction features a gothic tropics is not as anomalous as one might initially suppose. Teresa A. Goddu has recently noted how often “African American experience, written as a realist text, resembles a gothic narrative” (131). In representing silenced realities of the American experience, African American writers “haunt back” the official narratives of America’s racial history (Goddu 151). The Marrow of Tradition functions precisely in this way, haunting journalistic accounts of the infamous Wilmington massacre of 1898 as a heroic Anglo-Saxon campaign to overthrow “Negro domination.” (5) David Punter’s observation that gothic writing features “those areas of the world and of consciousness which are, for one reason or another, not available to the normal processes of representation” aptly characterizes Chesnutt’s narrative strategy in The Marrow of Tradition (15). Inasmuch as the novel represents the reality of miscegenation and white supremacist brutality that post-Reconstruction authorities cover up, it makes visible what purportedly does not exist in the turn-of-the-century South and in doing so fashions its social critique in gothic terms. (6)
The Marrow of Tradition powerfully reconstructs the naked aggression behind the white supremacist campaign to disfranchise blacks, restore white authority, and thus liberate Wilmington, North Carolina, from the specter of “Negro domination.” Essentially a bloody political coup achieved by subverting the principles of free democratic election, the rebellion restored political power to white Democrats who had lost control of Wilmington to the Fusionists, a fledgling political party composed of Republicans and dissident Populists, many of whom were black (Pettis 41). In its mixed racial composition, the Fusion party embodied the ideal of social progress through interracial alliance and also symbolized the repressed fact of American hybridity produced through miscegenation (Sundquist 409). To white racists the Fusion party embodied the horror of “Negro domination” because interracial political alliance reproduced in political terms the threat that miscegenation represented to white racial purity.
Similar to the way white supremacist discourse precluded the possibility of consent in interracial sex by fashioning all such instances as the raping of white women by black “beasts,” the construction of “Negro domination” negated the possibility that interracial political alliances might serve the mutual interests of whites and blacks. That political alliance could develop across racial lines suggests that, for some white southerners, class interests took primacy over racial identity, an unsettling prospect to those holding power. Because some poor whites found their political interests better served by the Fusion party, the specter of “Negro domination” that was used to discredit the Fusionists stymied the political aspirations of whites as well as blacks. “Negro domination” thus became a rallying cry to disfranchise blacks and a screen to secure political authority for its traditional possessors against the interests of other whites. Chesnutt reveals the hegemony of aristocratic authority to be the price for claiming post-Reconstruction whiteness: to be white is to identify with the interests of the southern aristocracy over any other, as Fusion party politics are coded black and threatening to the social order. The absence of white Fusionists in The Marrow of Tradition symbolizes how “Negro domination” is used to repress the fact of interracial political alliance. Through this erasure, Chesnutt registers the totalization of white Fusionists as black for all intents and purposes.
The denial of consensual interracial alliance–political or sexual–highlights the key role repression plays in establishing the social order of the post-Reconstruction South. Chesnutt represents the entanglement of political and sexual interracial union by locating miscegenation within one of Wellington’s (i.e., Wilmington’s) elite families. The novel opens by linking racial anxiety, a mainspring of the southern gothic, to genealogical crisis. The Carterets, wealthy owners of The Morning Chronicle, Wellington’s most popular newspaper, anxiously await the fate of their sickly newborn son. Despite the recent birth of the family heir, gothic gloom suffuses the Carteret home: “[t]he heavy scent of magnolias, overpowering even the strong smell of drugs in the sickroom, suggested death and funeral wreaths, sorrow and tears, the long home, the long sleep” (Marrow 1). That the mother earlier glimpsed her unacknowledged mulatta half-sister while riding about town heightens the genealogical crisis. A virtual, though illegitimate, double of her white half-sister, Janet Miller undermines the family fiction of Carteret genealogical purity. As such, Janet represents Olivia Carteret’s repressed self and embodies the horror of the uncanny. (7) While the repression of this family “skeleton” establishes the racial purity on which Carteret political authority rests, the possibility of exposure haunts the legitimacy of family purity and influence (7). In the half-sisters’ near-identicalness, Chesnutt at once undermines (the hierarchizing of) racial difference and reveals that whiteness only assumes its identity as racially pure by totalizing blackness, that is, by denying the whiteness of mulattos and their claims to legitimacy.
As is clear from her uneasiness, Olivia dreads the exposure of her family’s secret. She is haunted by the possibility of Janet’s legitimacy, knowing that the mulatta was fathered by her own father and then cast out of the family by her overbearing Aunt Polly. Exacerbating Olivia’s private fears is her husband’s public campaign against the specter of “Negro domination.” With Janet’s presence threatening Olivia’s claim to racial purity, the Major’s vision of a South that reserves privileges for pure whites only torments his fragile wife like a “nightmare” (25). By becoming the public defender of white supremacy, the southern patriarch subjects his own family to public surveillance, exposing it to the unforgiving absolutism of the color line and heightening the “nightmare” possibility that the white supremacist campaign will ultimately lead to the Carterets’ own doorstep and their undoing. The Confederate hero who dreams of redeeming the New South by restoring the antebellum social order ironically proves a tormentor to his wife and thus fails in his assigned role as protector of the southern flower. By featuring public and private efforts to preserve white purity at odds with each other, The Marrow of Tradition represents the contradictions intrinsic to white supremacist construction of white racial purity.
It is indeed ironic that Major Carteret’s campaign against “Negro domination” disturbs the domestic sphere because its catalyst is the Major’s concern for his posterity. Having recently invested some of his wife’s patrimony in a local commercial venture, the Major finds his investment, and his son’s future, threatened by the local political situation. Seeking to provide security for both his investment and posterity, the Major writes an editorial in his newspaper arguing against black political participation. In a city “two-thirds colored,” yet where blacks hold only minor political office, the slightest degree of black political authority, to the white supremacist accustomed to holding power, promises to leave Wellington a “helpless corpse” (31). In tracing the Major’s fear of “Negro domination” to his privileged class position, Chesnutt reveals the repressive campaign as aristocratic in design. The Marrow
of Tradition thus centers the Old South establishment within the New South, which seriously undermines the claims of southern progress (Andrews 179). Depicting the white supremacist campaign as motivated to a considerable degree by aristocratic interests, Chesnutt at once challenges the postbellum rehabilitation of the cavalier tradition and the progressivist myth of the reconstructed New South.
Chesnutt further portrays the New South as a nightmare state by depicting how white supremacist discourse criminalizes not only blackness but especially black success. In imagining black servility and white authority to mark the “natural” state of race relations, Carteret appreciates blacks for their “doglike fidelity” (24). But even this brutalizing compliment is further reduced under the racist gaze of the white supremacist. While inherent servility renders some blacks loyal servants to their white masters/employers, the social intimacy that comes of such a relationship also enables black petty thievery by giving blacks almost total access to the white man’s “portable property” (31).
In fact, the imagined inherent inferiority of blacks renders even the most successful black person a potential criminal. Responding to a fellow aristocrat’s admiration for whatever success blacks have achieved under Jim Crow conditions, the Major refashions black success as a further threat to white supremacy. He effaces the shining example of Dr. William Miller, a local black doctor and founder of Wellington’s black hospital, by shifting the discussion of black success to the more prevalent view of black criminality. He blots out evidence of black achievement with the phobic figure of the “burly black burglar” (26). Through this rhetorical subterfuge, Carteret reaffirms the racist stereotype that blackness permanently corrupts. In representing how easily Carteret substitutes the black embodiment of success with the phantasmic figure of the black beast criminal, Chesnutt graphically highlights the gothic quality of nineteenth-century racial discourse. As Sundquist argues, Chesnutt’s demonstration of how “Negro domination” criminalizes black success reveals the American Dream to be a nightmare for African Americans living at the nadir (418).
Moreover, criminalizing black success contravenes the Protestant capitalist ethos that valorizes prosperity as a sign of providential approval. Dr. Miller’s considerable self-making energy, prosperity, and humanitarianism mark him as a latter-day Ben Franklin, yet Jim Crow consigns his archetypal American success story to permanent marginality vis-a-vis southern whites. Remaking the American Dream into a nightmare casts white supremacy as an unnatural force that challenges the very concept of a providentially ordered universe. In denying blacks the possibility of transcending their enforced degradation through their personal achievements, that is, of transcending their entrapment within the color line, white supremacy denies blacks the possibility of salvation in the racialized terms of the caste-based South. Transmogrifying the southern paradise into an abyss for blacks presents white supremacy as gothic in its effects. Jerry Letlow, The Morning Chronicle’s truckling porter and eavesdropper on the Big Three’s white supremacist plot, mistakes their denunciation of “Negro domination” for their opposition to “nigger damnation” (39). Although he thinks he has just heard their affirmation of black salvation, Jerry remains wary, reminding himself that when “a passel er w’ite folks” discuss race, “it’s mo’ likely [blacks are] gwine ter ketch somethin’ e’se dan heaven” (39). With this remark, Chesnutt separates signifier from signified, blackness from damnation, making plain that white racism, not inner corruption or innate degeneracy, is what condemns blacks to the southern abyss. Using a servile and uneducated porter to perform the familiar signifyin(g) function of much African American writing, Chesnutt represents white supremacy as an unnatural force because it usurps providential authority by producing a living hell for black southerners. (8)
That personal success provided no help in enabling blacks to transcend their degradation highlights the Jim Crow South’s brutal absolutism. The irrelevancy of personal success to the construction of southern black identity demonstrates how the color line maintains strict racial hierarchy, contrary to claims that it functioned neutrally in keeping the races “separate but equal.” Chesnutt exposes the fiction of impartiality in racial segregation by depicting the radically unequal accommodations of a segregated railroad carrier and calls into question the Supreme Court’s landmark decision upholding segregationist law in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Returning home on the Dixie-bound train from New York City, after purchasing equipment for his hospital, Dr. Miller chances upon Dr. Alvin Burns, his white former medical school professor. While their shared profession and gentility make them equals as “men of culture,” Dr. Miller’s “`visible admixture’ of African blood” renders him contraband in a white car once the train has crossed into the South (49). Citing “the law of Virginia” that prohibits blacks from riding in white cars, the train conductor interrupts their pleasant conversation to separate the two doctors (53). Crossing the Mason-Dixon line initiates the ontological confusion basic to gothic fiction, spatializing the social rupture more commonly figured in temporal terms. When Dr. Bums, outraged to discover that Jim Crow recognizes no class distinctions among blacks, offers to join Dr. Miller in the black car, the conductor explains that the segregationist laws of the South apply equally to whites and blacks so as to remain beyond reproach in trying to preserve racial exclusivity. “The beauty of the system,” the conductor informs his indignant white passenger, “lies in its strict impartiality–it applies to both races alike” (55). But as Dr. Bums notes, prohibiting whites from sitting in black cars infringes on whites’ civil liberties, thus revealing white superiority as constituted in the control of white agency.
However, the description of the black car’s dilapidation (as well as the fact that a white male is permitted to smoke a cigarette in the black car) undermines segregation’s purported impartiality. As if to provide an objective correlative for black degradation, the car marked “Colored” contrasts sharply with its “White” partner. It is old and outfitted “with faded upholstery, from which the stuffing project[s] here and there through tom places” (56). In its material shabbiness, the black car belies Jim Crow’s vaunted egalitarianism: racial difference signifies one’s position within a racial hierarchy. In fact, as the differences between the two cars suggest, the South’s enforcement of a racial hierarchy exaggerates racial difference to such an extent that Dr. Miller momentarily questions his own humanity. As he sits alone in the black car, separated from human society, Dr. Miller wonders if his blackness makes him what W.E.B. Du Bois termed a tertium quid, that is, a not-fully human being who occupies the space between human and animal (55). Chesnutt graphically represents this ontological anxiety in the “queer sensation” Dr. Miller experiences as a dog is brought into the black car, starkly dramatizing the brutally discursive violence of white supremacy (60). For the very meaning of blackness depends on the placement of the dog: the possibility that it will be left in the “Colored” car threatens to degrade blackness to the status of non-human. Although the dog is led to another car, sparing Dr. Miller an unimaginable indignity, his uncertainty about his ontological status marks the unnatural authority of white supremacy. In Dr. Miller’s impotence to resist the dehumanizing metamorphosis from human to non-human, Chesnutt fashions gothic degeneracy as an effect of post-Reconstruction race relations.
Dr. Miller’s impotence dramatizes the impossible situation of being black in the nadir hour. As Chesnutt himself doubtless understood, the failure of personal success to abate the sting of racial bigotry heightened the sense of black powerlessness. Chesnutt figures the color line’s regulation of acceptable black identity through gothic imagery:
Those who grew above it must have their heads cut off, figuratively
speaking,–must be forced back to the level assigned to their race;
those who fell beneath the standard set had their necks stretched,
literally enough, as the ghastly record in the daily papers gave
conclusive evidence. (61)
As this passage indicates, the white supremacist denial of black success effects a symbolic decapitation, or, more properly, psychological mutilation. The figurative quality of the dismemberment represents turn-of-the-century black success as a state marked by a horrific negation of being, an ontology experienced in gothic terms as a living death. As represented here, success for a black person yields the psychological equivalent of lynching.
Of course, regulating blackness through violence recalls the antebellum overseer, and The Marrow of Tradition makes explicit the continuation of antebellum forms of disciplining blackness into the post-Reconstruction period. The son of an antebellum overseer, Captain George McBane, like many other poor whites, had profited from the abolition of slavery. Chesnutt pointedly observes how Emancipation proved more liberating for poor whites than for blacks, opening “the door of opportunity” for those whose access to the spoils of the plantation economy had previously been hampered by their employers (34). “No longer overshadowed by a slaveholding caste” (34), some poor whites succeeded in climbing the economic and social ladder. Merging the brutality of the overseer with the efficiency of the capitalist, McBane achieved wealth through the convict-lease system, which furnished the cheap labor that built the infrastructure of the New South. The convict-lease system, in relying on a labor force comprised largely of black males unjustly convicted on trumped-up charges, in effect represented the post-Reconstruction refashioning of slavery. The profit motive induced McBane to reproduce the overseer’s depredations, conduct which in fact precipitated his own brutalization. Having lived “a life of violence and cruelty” that the more privileged white southerners had managed to avoid, McBane embodies the brutality of white supremacy and represents the degenerate white southerner (304). With his menacing eye-patch preserving the connection to his violent past, McBane seems, to Jerry Letlow, as if “he could jes’ eat [blacks] alive” (38). Likening McBane to a cannibal makes plain his degenerate state, a symptomatic condition of gothic identity.
Ironically, however, degeneracy also marks the South’s most privileged figure, the aristocrat. Tom Delamere represents the dissolution of the idealized southern gentleman. Heir to one of Wellington’s most distinguished families, Tom embodies the decline of the local white establishment. Despite being “the “handsomest young man” in town, “no observer would have characterized [Tom’s] beauty as manly” because he lacks any sign of “strength” (16). A dissolute figure whose mastery of southern manners conceals his inner corruption, Tom possesses a “feline” quality that “subtly negative[s] the idea of manliness” (16). To Lee Ellis, the young city editor of the Morning Chronicle and rival suitor for Major Carteret’s half-sister, Clara Pemberton, Tom Delamere typifies “the degenerate aristocrat” (95). While the Carterets remain blind to Tom’s dissolution, in particular, the penchant for alcohol and gambling that leads to his undoing, Mr. Ellis sees that Delamere stands far along “the downward slant” of the true gentleman, “with large possibilities of further decline” (95-96). That the more experienced southern aristocrat, Major Carteret, fails to see through the emptiness of Delamere’s manners and looks favorably on his courtship of his half-sister suggests the elegance of southern social forms to be a self-deceiving hall of mirrors. Moreover, that Delamere’s decline goes virtually unnoticed by his peers marks the radical division between public and private realms of experience in southern aristocratic society and can be seen as engendering the divided self of gothic fiction. (9) In carefully hiding his decline from public view, a process of dissipation that culminates in the murder of a long-time family friend, Delamere essentially splits into two selves–one public, the other private. This condition in effect recasts the gothic experience of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll as the product of southern sociality.
Delamere’s cakewalk impersonations further evidence his divided self. As a cultural form, the cakewalk originated on the antebellum plantation as a key vehicle of black resistance against enslavement. (10) Initially a ritual satiric performance signifyin(g) on white mastery through the parody of aristocratic pretensions, the cakewalk became a hybridized cultural form in late-nineteenth-century America. Constituent to the cultural narrative of black degeneracy, the cakewalk reinforced white supremacist views on the “natural” hierarchy of race in the “happy darky” caricature. A grotesque form of popular entertainment whose performance of “black life” as buffoonery dramatized the necessity of white mastery, the cakewalk nonetheless remained a contested cultural site in postbellum society. As performed by whites in black face, the cakewalk expressed a vicious nostalgia for the imagined simplicity of plantation life and race relations, yet as generally performed by blacks, the cakewalk continued to function in its traditional signifyin(g) role. Despite the fact that many black minstrels caricatured the folk materials they portrayed (and that even when black performers didn’t demean their cultural traditions, most white viewers couldn’t discern the difference), by representing traditional elements of African American folk life, black minstrelsy kept alive “the shadow life of African culture” (Sundquist 285-86). In doing so, black minstrelsy signified on the white supremacist belief that black degeneracy would ultimately lead to the extinction of the black race. The satirizing of white cultural beliefs thus inverted the politics of “imitation” that the cakewalk seemingly represented in its burlesque of the African American experience and thereby recovered its cultural origins (Sundquist 286).
Chesnutt’s representation of the cakewalk in The Marrow of Tradition continues its signifyin(g) function. Literalizing the form’s political instrumentality, Chesnutt stages the first of the novel’s two cakewalks as light entertainment for a group of northern investors. The final cultural event on the northerners’ itinerary, the cakewalk caps Wellington’s presentation of racial harmony in hopes of securing funds for a projected cotton mill. Having shielded the northerners from direct access to the local black community, Wellington’s civic leaders stage a cakewalk in order to finalize the “pleasing impression of Southern customs, and particularly of the joyous, happy-go-lucky disposition of the Southern darky and his entire contentment with existing conditions” (117). Swayed by the politeness of their southern hosts and the decorum of their black servants, the northerners come to sympathize with the white southerners’ belief in innate black inferiority and the legitimacy of white authority. In the cakewalk’s manufacture of northern sympathy, Chesnutt signifies its metaphoric function as the South’s “performance” that blacks were under control and capital investment safe as a result (Sundquist 273). The cakewalk thus functions as another means for effacing the oppression of blacks in favor of national reconciliation.
In addition to dramatizing post-Reconstruction politics, Delamere’s cakewalk signifies on the racist notion of black degeneracy as white supremacist fiction. Specifically, Chesnutt highlights that the white burlesque of black inferiority cannot occur without the gothic exposure of white degeneracy. Dressed in the garb of his grandfather’s servant, Sandy Campbell, Delamere delights the audience with his exaggerated impersonation of an “old darky.” His dancing agility, coupled with his mastery of “the quaintness of the darky dialect and the darky wit,” earn Delamere and his partner the prize cake (118). Mr. Ellis, however, is troubled by what the spectacle masks: evidence that “a white man could possess two so widely varying phases of character” so as to impugn the legitimacy of white superiority (119).
Warren Hedges’ description of the postbellum construction of whiteness brings Chesnutt’s signifyin(g) strategy into fuller relief:
In a society that equated African Americans with unbridled impulse,
the portrayal of white men’s bodies became ever more identified with
their supposedly superior capacity for self-regulation. Then as now,
the white norm depended not only on subordinating racial others
without but also on expunging their supposed traits within. Racial
norms operated by a double action, by violently excluding racial
others from definitions of normalcy while simultaneously narrowing
the range of white behavior. (228)
In Delamere’s skillful impersonation, Chesnutt demonstrates how the racist construction of black inferiority contaminates the fiction of white purity. While the cakewalk crudely stages white supremacist ideas of black inferiority, seemingly “reveal[ing] the underlying savage” beneath “the thin veneer of civilization,” the fact that the performer is a white man in blackface suggests that white degeneracy, not black, is on display (119). A white person’s flawless performance of black degradation thus compromises the white supremacist fictions of white superiority and racial purity: the white performance of blackness suggests a knowledge reputedly alien to whites and debunks the myth of white racial exclusivity in the process.
But if the burlesquing of black identity contaminates the fiction of white purity, the repercussions of such distortions prove far more toxic to blacks. Delamere’s seamless performance renders Sandy suspect within Wellington’s black community. For much the same reason that contemporary black leaders such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson and House Representative Maxine Waters criticize gangsta rap, Sandy’s fellow church members denounce his cakewalk for perpetuating negative black stereotypes. The terrible irony is that Sandy’s condemnation becomes prophecy: having availed nothing by protesting his innocence, Sandy “insensibly glide[s]” into the very dissolution of which he stands accused (121). As if to highlight the connection between discursive authority and black degradation, the cause of Sandy’s disrepute becomes the agent of his degeneracy. Having poisoned Sandy’s reputation within the black community, Delamere now acts the devil by supplying him with liquor to escape his pained confusion. In tracing Sandy’s dissolution to Delamere’s performative acts, Chesnutt casts black degeneracy as an effect of the negative representation of blacks in postbellum society and highlights the discursivity behind the gothic fear of racial degeneration.
Chesnutt further demonstrates black degeneracy to be the discursive effect of white supremacy in Delamere’s impersonation of the period’s other dominant negative black stereotype: the black beast rapist. As Joel Williamson and other scholars have explained, the social dislocation and economic downturn of the late 1880s and early 1890s gave rise to this phobic figure. (11) Southern masculinity, as articulated within the New South’s economic paradigm, was shaken considerably by the social and economic upheaval of the period. Having grounded masculinity in their ability to provide for and protect their families, many displaced white men now regarded themselves as inadequate. Diminished as material providers for their wives and daughters, white southern males reaffirmed their masculinity by becoming the guardians of southern purity, the protectors of southern white women. Williamson traces the formation of the black beast rapist to the destabilization of southern white masculinity, terming white male rage against the imagined threat to southern womanhood “psychic compensation” (115). That the turn-of-the-century South manufactures a bogeyman should come as little surprise, given the tendency for moments of social dislocation and economic crisis to fire the gothic imagination (Punter 112). The “New Negro,” as constructed in white supremacist discourse, freed from “the restraining influences of slavery, [was] rapidly `retrogressing’ toward [his] natural state of bestiality” (111). White southerners asked themselves what else could be expected of the black male who had never felt the civilizing effects of slavery but the reversion back to his native savagery?
Tom Delamere’s second blackface performance dramatizes in the starkest possible terms the white supremacist manufacture of black criminality. Disguising himself once again as Sandy Campbell, Delamere robs and murders Aunt Polly, capitalizing on the racist belief in black degeneracy. Sandy sees Delamere disguised as himself and stands amazed, imagining himself to have been dematerialized without knowing it. Delamere’s impersonation of Sandy produces a gothic doubling of identity and causes Sandy to question his ontological status. In seeing himself “hurrying along in front of himself,” Sandy imagines he is dead, and that his own being is a “ha’nt” (167). While the experience “savor[s] of the supernatural,” the fact that Sandy concedes primacy of being to the “remarkable apparition” and believes himself to be his own “ha’nt” indicates the unnatural power of white supremacist representational authority (167). The point, of course, is that because Delamere uses Sandy’s likeness to murder Aunt Polly, he figures Sandy as the black predator of white womanhood, an identity that makes the faithful servant as good as dead.
By inhabiting the negative black stereotype of the predator, Delamere perpetuates the white supremacist fiction of black degeneracy. But in Sandy Campbell’s ontological confusion, Chesnutt metaphorizes the disorientation that blacks experienced in confronting negative representations of their identity, what W.E.B. Du Bois described as the “strange meaning of being black” in the nadir moment (v). For Du Bois, the phenomenon of self-estrangement characterized black identity in the Jim Crow South, where over-determination of blacks as, on the one hand, “happy darkies,” and on the other, degenerate beasts, constituted blackness as a self-canceling, zeroed-out category of being. The self-alienation fundamental to black experience Du Bois termed “double-consciousness” and described as a near-pathological condition:
[i]t is a peculiar sensation…. this sense of always looking at
one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by
the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One
ever feels his two-ness, –an American, a Negro; two souls, two
thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one
dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being tom
In Sandy’s capitulation to the representation he cannot control and fails to understand fully, Chesnutt masterfully captures the self-estrangement of seeing oneself “through the eyes of others” (Du Bois 2). Sandy’s response to the two black stereotypes thus highlights the psychic deformation caused by confronting representations of self that one either cannot recognize or, if so, recognizes at extreme risk to one’s sense of self. Such radical circumscription of selfhood recasts gothic entrapment in discursive terms.
Delamere’s ability to perform blackness enacts the theory of white universality, a discursive effect of white supremacy. As Myra Jehlen explains, whiteness is constructed in the late nineteenth century as pure potential: “[t]he superior race, when defining itself in the terms of modern individualism, claims not a better type, but the general norm–universality, or the ability to be any type and all of them” (45). (12) Unlike blackness, which is defined as a limited essence, whiteness is privileged as unlimited potential: “what characterizes the norm embodied in the superior race, instead of a particular set of traits, is universal potential. Such potential realizes itself in relation to environment” (46). Delamere can thus perform various types of black degeneracy because whiteness supposedly imparts the privileged capacity to inhabit virtually any identity. Of course, Chesnutt exposes the fictiveness of a degraded black essentialism in Dr. Miller’s upward mobility. With Jim Crow segregationist policies in effect, Dr. Miller’s success only proves more forcefully the fact of black ability. If anything, Dr. Miller’s success indicates that black potential realizes itself despite the prevailing southern environment, revealing a potential in excess of the white supremacist imagination, a remainder that haunts white supremacy.
Yet while Dr. Miller’s considerable accomplishments make him emblematic of Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth,” Chesnutt also figures the more alarming (because more widely disseminated) product of Jim Crow: the violent black man. (13) If Dr. Miller somehow transcends his environment and marks, for Chesnutt, the slow but steady progress of the race, Josh Green represents the dreaded effect of white supremacist violence. The vengeful “great black figure” embodies the white southerner’s nightmare, but Chesnutt represents it as “the fruit” of southern racism (62,112). Having seen his father murdered by a Ku Klux Klan posse, Josh Green has sworn himself to avenging the initial act of violence. Josh’s desire for vengeance complements his mother’s permanent psychological maiming: the shock she suffers at this “human cruelty” destroys her just as it poisons her son (112). Though Josh’s determined vengefulness alarms Dr. Miller because whites are sure to make “the race … answer as a whole for the offenses of each separate individual,” the doctor also finds evidence of racial progress in Josh’s willingness to risk certain death for justice (114). Josh’s determination to achieve justice marks an incipient expression of black humanity, certainly an improvement over his mother’s descent into imbecility. In preferring to be “a dead nigger” who will fight for his fights instead of “[a] w’ite folks’ nigger,” Josh Green represents the gothic condition of black humanity in the Jim Crow South, as black subjecthood is negatively affirmed in the suicidal act of retribution (114, 284).
Josh Green’s self-canceling enactment of black subjecthood mirrors the white supremacist construction of an invisible black political subject. Sandy’s purported crime confirms for the Big Three the incontrovertibility of black savagery, a fact forever making black franchise an unnatural inversion of Anglo-Saxon authority. The murder of Aunt Polly makes plain that “the ballot in the hands of the negro was a menace to the commonwealth” (31). To Wellington’s white supremacist leadership, the murder represents the terrifying (yet logical) outcome of whites’ losing political authority, a foreshadowing of the South under the control of the Fusionists. The Big Three conflate Aunt Polly’s murder with the wider fear of black retribution, viewing the act as heralding the violent political ends of black authority, making black enfranchisement the means of white subjugation. With blacks constituting Wellington’s majority, black enfranchisement is seen by the white minority as an instrument of tyranny (30). For the Big Three, the possibility that Wellington’s demographics might establish black political authority in perpetuity is enough to delegitimate the results of the most recent local elections and to justify the silencing of the majority’s will (30). In the discourse of white supremacy, whiteness alone constitutes the body politic: white southerners thus refuse to acknowledge black political gains as legitimate expressions of the people’s will, seeing them instead as a monstrous threat to the people. Black disenfranchisement politically manufactures a domestic population whose presence haunts the South as aliens, as non-citizens within its geopolitical borders.
Such political theory legitimates white violence against the imaginary unnatural cause of black political representation. However, the white supremacist logic legitimating the overthrow of democratic principles underwrites other forms of extra-legal justice such as lynch law. While he admits “that lynching, was, as a rule, unjustifiable,” Judge Everton refuses to intervene against the lynch mob on Sandy’s behalf (193). Affirming his belief that laws “express the will of the people,” the judge nonetheless allows that “in an emergency the sovereign people might assert itself and take the law into its own hands” (193). The sanctioning of mob violence gothicizes the idea of justice by valorizing vigilantism as majority rule. For Chesnutt, the point is clear: the idea of “the sovereign people” is always restricted to whites; even when black political authority is the result of participating in the electoral process, blacks will never be recognized under Jim Crow as embodying “the will of the people.” Judge Everton’s defense of extra-legal acts on the grounds that they express the people’s will sanctions potentially any form of white supremacist violence. In language that strikingly recalls the fatal myopia that sets in motion Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, Frankenstein, the judge claims “the creature [is] not greater than the creator” (193). While seemingly legitimating any enactment of white retribution as simply the extension of written law, the remark cannibalizes itself in recalling the uncontrollable retributive violence of Frankenstein’s creature. And though he does not technically represent lynching in the novel, Chesnutt nonetheless portrays it as monstrous for what it does to whites: in whetting their “thirst for black blood,” lynching induces a group hysteria that figuratively makes vampires of the white mob (179).
The legitimation of white supremacist violence fosters a climate wherein genocidal fantasies become a reality unseen by civil authorities. One character finds in the local authorities’ indifference to the growing lynch hysteria proof that “[t]he whole Negro population of the South might be slaughtered before the necessary red tape could be spun out to inform the President that a state of anarchy prevailed” (192). Even after Sandy has been cleared of murder charges, Wellington’s white population sees little cause for self-reproach and contrition. Sandy’s exoneration releases him from jail and back into society as a free man, a reversal of fate that aggravates Major Carteret, who had made a martyr of Aunt Polly and turned the crime into “a race question” (227). Having been stripped of his crusade, the major only becomes more intransigent in his view “that there was no permanent place for the negro in the United States, if indeed anywhere in the world, except under the ground” (245). The discovery of Delamere’s guilt threatens to discredit Carteret’s white supremacist script of black degeneracy and white moral superiority. The prospect of public disclosure and embarrassment so upsets the major that his desire to repress the truth takes the form of genocidal rage: in a perversion of the gothic imagination, he contemplates the burial of damning evidence by means of annihilating blacks.
In fact, the unsatisfied “thirst for black blood” explodes into the Wellington race riot. As William Gleason observes, the mob’s “hunger for revenge is not sated until the riot” (37). The Big Three precipitate the racist violence by reprinting an incendiary editorial from the local black newspaper, the Afro-American Banner, which asserted that the predatory black male was more a product of southern race hysteria than flesh and blood. Seeking to capitalize on the frustrated lynch lust, they append (presumably goading) commentary to the editorial “to fire the inflammable Southern heart” (243). Their editorializing attempts to fashion a potent white masculinity by making Wellington’s white males confront their feelings of inadequacy while offering them a chance to erase such feelings through mob violence. This representational strategy enables displaced white males to demonstrate to themselves that the New South is still “a white man’s country” (241). Constructing white manhood as an ideal that yokes together force and racial purity effects “a visible shrinkage of the colored population…. from public view,” which firmly inscribes Wellington in whiteness (179). Yet the violence authorized by the white supremacist imaginary ironically marks white males as gothic monsters: for months following the massacre, black children “[scream] with fear and [run] to their mothers at the mere sight of a white man” (275). In describing the fear caused by their appearance alone, Chesnutt inverts the southern demonization of black males and highlights how white supremacy reduces white men to such an extent that they seem no different from Frankenstein’s creature.
In its savagery, the massacre stages the white supremacist fantasy of genocide. Black corpses are placed at intersections for maximum psychological terror; at the nadir, black visibility signifies death. The objectification of blacks tragically extends into death, as black bodies serve as terrifying examples to others. This “gruesome spectacle” haunts Dr. Miller for years to come: he relives the horror in his dreams, seeing “the sights that wounded his eyes, and feel[ing] the thoughts the haunting spirits of the thoughts that tore his heart as he rode through hell” (287, 286). In Dr. Miller’s recurring nightmare, Chesnutt perfectly captures the socio-historical ground of the American gothic. The nightmares he suffers are all the more horrible because they come directly from his memory of lived experience, and the gruesome images of the massacre exceed anything his imagination can produce.
Against the savagery of white supremacy, it is small wonder that blacks seek refuge in disappearing. Some take flight to nearby swamps, the traditional hideaway from persecution, while others, like Jerry Letlow, seek more lasting effects. Having been privy to the Big Three’s plans to instigate the race riot, the porter tries to conceal his blackness by using a toxic chemical formula on his hair and skin. The product guarantees “Kinky, curly hair made straight in two applications” and skins “lightened two shades” (244). Jerry’s desperate attempt to save himself by whitening, however, only marks him as a degenerate being. While he hopes to “improve” himself by erasing his blackness, the product disfigures him: like Frankenstein’s monster, his face is “splotched with brown and yellow patches,” and his hair shines as if buttered (243). To the Big Three, Jerry’s appearance signals his “decay” and reaffirms their racist belief in black degeneracy (244). They find in his failed design irrefutable proof that “the negro was doomed, and that the white man was to inherit the earth and hold all other races under his heel” (244). For Wellington’s white supremacist cadre, the fact that the Afro-American Banner advertises whiteners to its readership suggests that even blacks acknowledge “the handwriting on the wall” (244).
But by situating black racial anxieties within a climate of white racism, Chesnutt rewrites the phenomenon of black self-hatred. Rather than signifying black biological inferiority, proof that “the negro was doomed,” the whitening impulse emerges as a tragic response to virulent chauvinism. Linking black self-hatred to white supremacy remakes whitening into a form of cultural genocide that counters the genocidal fantasies of white supremacists. When we consider that Chesnutt imagined racial amalgamation as the best hope for black survival, exactly what to turn-of-the-century whites represented the dreaded ruin of white purity, the erasure of blackness through whitening appears a more viable, albeit reactionary, alternative to racial annihilation. (14) In a society that continued to deny the reality of miscegenation by insisting “`negro’ means `black,'” an imaginary that reduced varyingly complected African Americans to the single category of “black” and which underwrote the oppressive logic of the color line, many blacks saw the erasure of one’s blackness as the most likely means of securing personhood (246). Though whitening represents a more tenable alternative to Josh Green’s suicidal affirmation of black humanity, the masochism that underwrites such an assimilationist project marks it as a gothic form of selfhood: in order to become a citizen, a black American must internalize the dominant cultural belief in black inferiority.
The discursive erasure of Janet Miller’s whiteness (and attendant claims to her father’s estate) represents the white supremacist version of erasing blackness. Olivia Carteret wishes to silence once and for all her anxieties concerning Janet’s claim to the family inheritance. Tired of the “haunting fear” of Janet’s potential claim, Olivia is horrified to discover that her father had married his former housekeeper and Janet’s mother (256). Even though Olivia’s father has left her the bulk of his estate, Janet’s legitimacy is no longer in doubt. The words that trigger her horror appear “ghostly black,” suggesting that the shock of the repressed truth is experienced as gothic irruption (258). With documentation testifying to Janet’s legitimacy, and the virtual identicality of the half-sisters, Olivia dreads what the discovery of Janet’s status will do to her own. Fearing the symbolic death that would result from having her racial purity questioned, Olivia destroys the documentation of her father’s “shocking mesalliance” and thereby obliterates Janet’s claim to legitimacy (270). In destroying her father’s marriage license, Olivia hides the blackness within her family by erasing the textual trace of Janet’s whiteness.
But while it preserves the cover of her family’s whiteness, Olivia’s repressive act permanently degrades the value of that possession. By erasing the trace of Janet’s legitimacy, Olivia reproduces Aunt Polly’s original violence against Janet’s claim. Aunt Polly regarded herself as the family savior for evicting Janet and her mother from Olivia’s father’s home upon his death, which thereby erased blackness from the family. The letter revealing her father’s transgression, however, casts Aunt Polly in less glowing light: it explains that the marriage served in part to thwart Aunt Polly’s ambitions to wed Olivia’s father. Its description of Aunt Polly as a “twice-widowed man-hunter” who made her father “[tremble] with alarm” because “there seemed no way of escape” reverses the traditional genderings of gothic monster and victim and thus gothicizes Aunt Polly’s status as the epitome of southern womanhood (260). In repeating her aunt’s violence, Olivia devalues the prestige of whiteness; thus, when she finally offers her half-sister her rightful inheritance in exchange for the compassion that will save her son’s life, Janet rejects her chance at legitimacy. By directing her husband to treat the sickly Carteret infant, Janet Miller demonstrates her superiority to a privileged whiteness.
Resisting the temptation to punish the Carterets for the death of her child, killed in the race riot, Janet refuses to enact the doctrine of flat justitia (“let justice be done”), the legal cornerstone of retributive justice. (15) In resisting this rare opportunity for a black person to exact retribution for a wrong perpetrated by a white, Janet transcends southern racial identities, for her refusal to seek retribution erases the color line from the idea of justice. Because southern justice is founded on the color-line principle of “separate but equal,” any instantiation of justice reinscribes the racial identities of “black” and “white” as mutually exclusive categories. Yet by shunning retribution, Janet refrains from acting in such a way that would reinforce the southern construction of justice and segregationist logic on which it is based. Rejecting Jim Crow justice, Janet moves beyond the racial categories that subtend the doctrine of “separate but equal.” In fact, Janet’s decision not to punish the whites who have wronged her enacts the colorblind principle of Christian mercy. Such a code, then, becomes the means for liberating the South from the imprisoning cycle of retribution (and anticipates a central tenet of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil fights campaign a half-century later). Though southern whites insisted on the separation of the races past, present, and future, Chesnutt’s color-line novel highlights their linked fates. In Janet’s refusal to seek justice as constructed by white supremacists, Chesnutt suggests that the erasure of racial categories represents not the South’s gothic undoing but its salvation.
(1.) In using the term “nadir” to describe the African American experience in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I am following the example of many scholars, including Williamson, Sundquist, and Bruce.
(2.) Winter (85-110) and Goddu (131-59) make similar observations.
(3.) In his 1901 essay, “Superstitions and Folklore of the South,” Chesnutt describes the disappearing traditions of conjure and voodoo as “relics of ancestral barbarism” (96). He proclaims education the key to dispelling “the absurdities of superstition” that persist in benighting poor southern blacks (96).
(4.) Knadler terms Chesnutt’s fiction “antirealist” for belying dominant turn-of-the-century constructions of racial identity and southern social reality (439). I share Knadler’s view. Although stylistically realist, The Marrow of Tradition is ideologically antirealist.
(5.) Shapiro notes that the Washington Post and other newspapers sought to legitimate white supremacist terror as restoring political order in the post-Reconstruction South. A Post editorial published two weeks before the massacre defended the mounting white terrorism on the grounds of political necessity: “The issue involves the preservation of enlightened institutions, of honest government, of law and order, of the integrity of the Caucasian race…. The negro has proved to the satisfaction of the entire country that he is incapable of conducting a civilized and wholesome government” (65). Shapiro provides an interesting analysis of domestic white supremacist violence in the context of late-nineteenth-century American imperialism (64-90).
(6.) Ellis describes gothic writing as the representation of “what is not supposed to exist” (7) and emphasizes gothic fiction’s grounding in concrete social relations (3-19).
(7.) The uncanny, according to Freud, triggers unease because it marks the return of the repressed. As Freud explains, the uncanny “is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (241). The uncanny is disturbing because in it we recognize the distorted but inalienable trace of our own repression, something strangely familiar from which we cannot entirely separate ourselves.
(8.) In using the term “signifyin(g)” to describe the potential of linguistic signs to be used in ways that revise or subvert their primary meanings, I am following Gates, who characterizes signifyin(g) as a rhetorical strategy through which “a second statement repeats, or tropes, or reverses the first.” See especially 44-88.
(9.) The divided self is a staple of gothic fiction. Miyoshi traces the roots of modernist alienation to early gothic texts. “It is this violent oscillation of evil deed and penitent mood,” Miyoshi writes, “that makes the Gothic villain a modern archetype for alienated man divided against himself” (5). MacAndrew argues that the gothic novel reconfigures the conflict between good and evil as an inner struggle, thereby opening up human psychology for literary investigation (53-107).
(10.) For an extended analysis of the cakewalk as cultural event and cultural trope, see Sundquist (276-94).
(11.) For insightful discussion of turn-of-the-century phobic images of black males, see Fredrickson (256-82) and Williamson (111-223).
(12.) Jehlen makes this point in her analysis of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), arguing that Tom Driscoll’s blackface depredations metaphorize the white supremacist construction of the black predator.
(13.) The “Talented Tenth” is Du Bois’s concept describing the ratio between a (racial or ethnic) group and its elite members who were imagined to comprise the leadership and skills necessary for group progress. Interestingly, Du Bois did not limit the concept to describe only the African American experience, though he did seek to effect its formation within the African American community.
(14.) For example, Chesnutt argued in “The Future American: What the Race is Likely to Become in the Process of Time” that amalgamation of the races was not only likely, but welcome. Because his vision of racial harmony entailed the total assimilation of African American identity and difference within this ideal hybridized figure, the question of Chesnutt’s racial politics is a matter of some controversy among African American literary critics.
(15.) “Fiat Justitia” is the title of the novel’s penultimate chapter and gloss on its dramatic action. Dr. Miller refuses Major Carteret’s desperate plea for medical assistance for his dying son, claiming that the major’s responsibility for the racial violence that has killed his own son warrants that the Carterets suffer a similar loss as punishment. The major’s quiet acceptance signals the justness of Dr. Miller’s decision. With justice on the Millers’ side, Janet’s refusal to exact retribution thus marks, as Kawash explains, the “shift from the symmetry of justice to the asymmetry of the gift” (119). Kawash provides an illuminating discussion of Chesnutt’s novelization of color-line justice (85-123).
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Bruce, Dickson D., Jr. Black American Writing from the Nadir: The Evolution of a Literary Tradition, 1877-1915. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.
Chesnutt, Charles. “To Walter Hines Page.” 22 March 1899. “To Be an Author”: Letters of Charles W. Chesnutt, 1889-1905. Ed. Joseph R. McElrath, Jr. and Robert C. Leitz III. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997. 120-22.
–. “The Future American: What the Race is Likely to Become in the Process of Time.” 1900. Charles W. Chesnutt: A Study of the Short Fiction. Ed. Henry B. Wonham. New York: Twayne, 1998. 93-94.
–. “Superstitions and Folklore of the South.” 1901. Charles W. Chesnutt: A Study of the Short Fiction. Ed. Henry B. Wonham. New York: Twayne, 1998. 95-101.
–. The Marrow of Tradition. 1901. Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. 1903. Ed. Candace Ward. New York: Dover, 1994.
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Fredrickson, George M. The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
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Hedges, Warren. “If Uncle Tom is White, Should We Call Him `Auntie’? Race and Sexuality in Postbellum U.S. Fiction.” Ed. Mike Hill. Whiteness: A Critical Reader. New York: New York UP, 1997. 226-47.
Hemenway, Robert. “Gothic Sociology: Charles Chesnutt and the Gothic Mode.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 7.1 (1974): 101-19.
Jehlen, Myra. “The Ties that Bind: Race and Sex in Pudd’nhead Wilson.” American Literary History 2.1 (1990): 39-55.
Kawash, Samira. Dislocating the Color Line: Identity, Hybridity, and Singularity in African American Literature. Stanford CA: Stanford UP, 1997.
Knadler, Stephen P. “Untragic Mulatto: Charles Chesnutt and the Discourse of Whiteness.” American Literary History 8.3 (1996): 426-48.
MacAndrew, Elizabeth. The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 1979.
Miyoshi, Masao. The Divided Self: A Perspective on the Literature of the Victorians. New York: New York UP, 1969.
Pettis, Joyce. “The Literary Imagination and the Historic Event: Chesnutt’s Use of History in The Marrow of Tradition.” South Atlantic Review 55.1 (1990): 37-48.
Punter, David. A History of Gothic Fictions. Vol. 1: The Gothic Tradition. London: Longman, 1980.
Shapiro, Herbert. White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1988.
Sundquist, Eric J. To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature. 1993. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Williamson, Joel. The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation. New York: Oxford UP, 1984.
Winter, Kari J. Subjects of Slavery, Agents of Change: Women and Power in Gothic Novels and Slave Narratives. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1992.
Gerald Ianovici is an Assistant Professor of English at Middle Georgia College.
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