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Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories

Kate Chopin, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and George Washington Cable

James Nagel

Publication Year: 2014

Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories posits that the Crescent City and the surrounding Louisiana bayous were a logical setting for the literary exploration of crucial social problems in America.

Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories
is a study of four volumes of interrelated short stories set in New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana bayous: Kate Chopin’s Bayou Folk; George Washington Cable’s Old Creole Days; Grace King’s Balcony Stories; and Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories. James Nagel argues that the conflicts and themes in these stories cannot be understood without a knowledge of the unique historical context of the founding of Louisiana, its four decades of rule by the Spanish, the Louisiana Purchase and the resulting cultural transformations across the region, Napoleonic law, the Code Noir, the plaçage tradition, the immigration of various ethnic and natural groups into the city, and the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction. All of these historical factors energize and enrich the fiction of this important region.

The literary context of these volumes is also central to understanding their place in literary history. They are short-story cycles—collections of short fiction that contain unifying settings, recurring characters or character types, and central themes and motifs. They are also examples of the “local color” tradition in fiction, a movement that has been much misunderstood. Nagel maintains that regional literature was meant to be the highest form of American writing, not the lowest, and its objective was to capture the locations, folkways, values, dialects, conflicts, and ways of life in the various regions of the country in order to show that the lives of common citizens were sufficiently important to be the subject of serious literature.

Finally, Nagel shows that New Orleans provided a profoundly rich and complex setting for the literary exploration of some of the most crucial social problems in America, including racial stratification, social caste, economic exploitation, and gender roles, all of which were undergoing rapid transformation at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

This book began in the classroom, in a graduate seminar I taught on Realism and Naturalism in which we were discussing George Washington Cable’s story “Belles Demoiselles Plantation.” In the process of dealing with the historical and racial aspects of the situation, a student asked how it could be...

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Introduction: The Historical Context

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pp. 1-21

By the end of the nineteenth century, Realism flourished as a dominant force in American literature, depicting normative characters facing believable conflicts and speaking the vernacular of the various sections of the United States. Within that tradition, the Local-Color movement gave specificity...

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1. George Washington Cable’s Old Creole Days

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pp. 22-57

George Washington Cable is often credited with being the first author after the Civil War to address the social and racial issues unique to the South, especially those relating to Louisiana and, more specifically, New Orleans. The Crescent City had long been an area of interest for American writers, but ...

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2. Grace King and the Cultural Background of Balcony Stories

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pp. 58-83

Grace King’s career began as an answer to the negative representation of the Creoles of New Orleans in George Washington Cable’s Old Creole Days and his celebrated novel The Grandissimes, in which some of the aristocratic class is depicted as dissolute gamblers incapable of conducting the family business...


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pp. 84-89

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3. Alice Dunbar-Nelson and the New Orleans Story Cycle

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pp. 90-118

Alice Dunbar-Nelson was twenty-four in 1899 when The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories appeared from Dodd, Mead and Company in New York, a major publisher of the time.1 African- American writers in the period enjoyed encouragement from such white writers as William Dean Howells...

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4. Kate Chopin’s Bayou Folk

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pp. 119-159

Until the 1970s, when The Awakening emerged from relative obscurity to become a major American novel, Kate Chopin’s reputation rested solidly on her first collection of stories, Bayou Folk, published in 1894 by Houghton Mifflin.1 By then she had already developed a national following for her...

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Conclusion: The Literary Legacy

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pp. 160-174

As a subject of serious literature, Louisiana emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century as the most complex and vibrant geographic area in the country. Unique among the states for its founding as an extension of the French empire, its four decades of rule by the Spanish, its incorporation...


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pp. 175-194


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pp. 195-202


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pp. 203-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387174
E-ISBN-10: 081738717X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817313388
Print-ISBN-10: 0817313389

Page Count: 222
Illustrations: 12 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 879306252
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Social change in literature.
  • American literature -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History and criticism.
  • Social structure in literature.
  • Local color in literature.
  • Cable, George Washington, -- 1844-1925 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • New Orleans (La.) -- In literature
  • Social problems in literature.
  • King, Grace Elizabeth, 1852-1932 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Dunbar-Nelson, Alice Moore, -- 1875-1935 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Chopin, Kate, -- 1850-1904 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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