Black and White


Following the Civil War, just prior to the turn of the century, many
American novelist were writing more freely of the previous slave culture. Two
of these writers being Mark Twain and Charles Chesnutt. Mark Twain was a
popular ?white? author by this time. Charles Chesnutt, the son of free blacks,
decided to pursue a dream of becoming an author in order to remove the spirit of
racism. By studying these authors in particular, the views of a white raised in
the slave holding south are juxtaposed with the views of free black. Both Twain
and Chesnutt satirize whites in different ways through their literature. Twain
also displays some unfavorable preconceptions of blacks. This can be attributed
to his own upbringing in the slave holding south.
The main character of the Chesnutt stories is an old Negro man,
previously a slave, who engages his new white employers in many tales about life
on the plantation. Uncle Julius relays these stories with much detail. Though,
at the conclusion of each, the reader is left wondering whether the tale was
true or if Uncle Julius had conceived of it merely to satisfy his own desires.
Chesnutt has added to the end of each story an ulterior motive of Uncle Julius
that seems to be met by the telling of his tales. By doing this, Chesnutt
discretely satirizes whites in general.
In the first story, The Goophered Grapevine, Uncle Julius tells of a
conjure woman putting a ?goopher? on the grapevines, causing all blacks that eat
the grapes to die within one year. This story is relayed upon the first meeting
of the northern white couple (John and Annie) and the native South Carolinian.
After telling his tale of Henry and the others that suffered from this spell,
Uncle Julius concludes that these northerners should not buy this vineyard,
adding conveniently that he is not afraid to eat the grapes because he know the ?
ole vimes fum de noo ones.?
John decides to buy the farm in spite of Uncle Julius's warnings, but he
does offer him employment as a coachman. It seems as if Uncle Julius had been
trying to guarantee his usefulness on the plantation even after its sale. Was
white man tricked into believing Julius' knowledge would be useful in the
renewing of the vineyards? Chesnutt lets the reader wonder, but regardless of
his tale being the reason for his employment, Uncle Julius gets to stay on the
land and receives a wage to compensate for any money he may have lost in the
sale of the vineyard.
As the family settles into their new home the wife sees a need for a new
kitchen. There is an abandoned schoolhouse on the corner of the property that
could serve for some of the wood to build with. Uncle Julius hears of the idea
and is immediately reminded of another story.
Chesnutt has titled this story Po' Sandy. In this story Uncle Julius
tells of a strong, hardworking slave, Sandy, that was tired of being sent away
to wok for the Master's grown children. His wife Tenie, conjure woman, places a
spell on Sandy turning him into a tree. Sandy continued to have problems in
this state. Tenie decides to turn him back and run off with him one night.
Unfortunately, Tenie was sent to nurse her master's daughter-in-law and by the
time she returned the tree had been sent to the mill. Sandy was used to build
the kitchen, that later became the old schoolhouse at the corner of the
plantation. Tenie died on the floor of that schoolhouse mourning her husband.
This story so disturbed Annie that she refused to use any old lumber
from the schoolhouse. At the conclusion Annie also admits that she has given
Uncle Julius permission to use the old schoolhouse for meetings of the new
Colored Baptist Church. Yet again Uncle Julius has received some sort of
benefit from the telling of his tales. This leads the reader to believe that
he had this ulterior motive in mind the entire time. Chesnutt seems to be
satirizing the unknowing white woman.
In the final selection chosen from the works of Chesnutt, Uncle Julius
tells the story of Dave's Neckliss. Dave, a good Christian slave, is accused of
stealing a ham from the smokehouse and forced to wear a ham chained around his
neck for punishment. Wiley, the real thief, had set Dave up because he loved
the girl that Dave had been going around with. When this was discovered, the
master tried to make reconciliation by telling all the slaves. Dave had already
lost his senses a little and thought he was a ham.