Tag Archives: Charles Chestnutt

Blog post 1 (Weeks of 1/20 and 1/27)

For the first 250-300-word blog post, you should select a single word, phrase, line, or sentence from the text you are writing about. Quote the text and cite a page number at the top of your post. Then contextualize the word in relation to the poem or story as a whole and comment on its complications, complexities, and significance. Why do you notice this word/phrase/line/sentence in particular? What multiple meanings does it convey? How is it important to the text as a whole?  

Keep in mind that your blog post should both demonstrate some worthwhile thinking about the text and help spur discussion in class the day after you post it.

As an example, here is my analysis of a sentence from Charles Chestnutt’s “The Goophered Grapevine.”

‘Possum, Chick’n, Watermillyums, en Scuppernon’s

“Now, ef dey’s an’thing a nigger lub, nex’ ter ‘possum, en chick’n, en watermillyums, it’s scuppernon’s.” (Norton p. 460)

To a modern reader, this sentence from Charles Chestnutt’s “The Goophered Grapevine” seems inescapably racist. Not only is it written in the cartoonish minstrel dialect in which Uncle Julius speaks throughout the story, it uses the taboo word “nigger” and references racist stereotypes about food that still circulate today. Uncle Julius McAdoo isn’t only a racist stereotype that harks back to other slave “Uncle” figures such as Uncle Tom and Uncle Remus, however, but also a savvy storyteller with a strong command of language. He is telling his story in hopes of dissuading the white first-person narrator from purchasing the vineyard, and he is making the rhetorical choice to invoke these stereotypes.

By bringing up these stereotypes, then, Julius is also telling his white addressee what he thinks the addressee wants to hear. That is, he hopes that by reporting these stereotypes, he can align himself with the racist perspective he assumes the white buyer holds and therefore establishes himself as worthy of that character’s trust. Chestnutt uses this character, then, less to be racist than to subvert racism, to show how Uncle Julius skillfully uses white people’s racist assumptions against them. It would be in Julius’s interest for the buyer to not buy the property, because until then he had continued to live on the property and “derived a respectable revenue from the neglected grapevines” (465). This sentence, then, shows how Chestnutt uses racism against itself: he creates a character smart enough to use his knowledge that white people will assume him to be stupid against them.