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Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt

Susan Prothro Wright, Ernestine Pickens Glass

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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pp. ix-xii

Charles Chesnutt’s writing is informed by a uniquely historical perspective, one that is often mistaken for what it is not—a subordination of “all things” African American to all things white. On the other hand, Chesnutt’s imaginative historicizing is frequently dismissed as superficial when readers fail to recognize what it is—an often ironic or even harshly satiric attack on notions of white superiority...


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pp. xiii

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Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination

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pp. 3-8

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, ...

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Signifying the Other: Chesnutt’s “Methods of Teaching”

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pp. 9-22

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 ...

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On Flags and Fraternities: Lessons in History in Charles Chesnutt’s “Po’ Sandy”

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pp. 23-38

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...

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Passing as Narrative and Textual Strategy in Charles Chesnutt’s “The Passing of Grandison”

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pp. 39-50

Charles Chesnutt’s “The Passing of Grandison” (published in The 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...

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The Dream of History: Memory and the Unconscious in Charles Chesnutt’s The House behind the Cedars

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pp. 51-66

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 shifts in time. As we trace the lives of siblings John and Rena, two light-skinned ...

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In the Wake of D. W. Griffith’s: The Birth of a Nation Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F.M.C. as Command Performance

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pp. 67-83

This essay sets forth the hypothesis that Charles Chesnutt attempted to publish his novel Paul Marchand, F.M.C. in 1921, with goal of countering D. W. Griffith’s The 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 ...

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Performing Race: Mixed-Race Characters in the Novels of Charles Chesnutt

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pp. 84-92

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 of House behind the Cedars, published the same year as the essay, as well as Paul Marchand, written twenty years later. What I believe interested Chesnutt in these stipulations of racial identity is...

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A Question of Passing or a Question of Conscience: Toward Resolving the Ending of Mandy Oxendine

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pp. 93-109

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, ...

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"They Were All Colored to the Life”: Historicizing “Whiteness” in Evelyn’s Husband

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pp. 110-126

In his introduction to Whiteness 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!” (Journals xvii).1 From the beginning ...


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pp. 127-129


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pp. 130-132

E-ISBN-13: 9781604734188
E-ISBN-10: 1604734183
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604734164
Print-ISBN-10: 1604734167

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2010