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SANDRA GUNNING Kate Chopin's Local Color Fiction and the Politics of White Supremacy In Kate chopin's 1894 local color story "A No-Account Creole," Euphrasie Mantón charts a course to economic and romantic happiness with Wallace Offdean, the New Orleans businessman whose company holds the mortgage on a local plantation in Manton's native Natchitoches patish. But while Chopin seemed to have originally conceived her stoty around the life of a woman, the plot centers squarely on a man's struggle with destiny and (dis)empowetment, since Euphrasie's discarded Creole lover, the plantation's former owner, Placide Santien, produces much of the story's emotional force. Indeed Placide holds the stoty hostage when, gun in hand, he sets out to murder the Yankeefied Offdean for winning both his family's land as well as his childhood sweetheart.' Bloodshed is narrowly averted when, as an ultimate demonstration that no one but a Creole knows "how to love," Placide decides to free Euphrasie from all romantic obligations (Collected Works 101). Chopin's stoty might well function as simply a ttibute to the ideal of self-sacrifice, were it not for the fact that Placide's initial impulse toward murder is distinctly tied through antebellum traditions of Southern honor to a legacy of white violence produced and nurtured by the region's defining histoty of slavery. Evoking the complex past that inevitably shapes the natures and actions of the story's charactets, the black laundress La Chatte comments that as a slave on the Santien plantation she too had stared down the barrel of Placide's gun if she Arizona Quarterly Volume 52, Number 3, Autumn 1995 Copyright © 1995 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 16 1 o Sandra Gunning didn't move quickly enough to fix the young man a meal; het hints of even more horrendous deeds committed by the Santien patriarch, Jules, suggests a family history of destructive masculine action that continues to distupt the lives of blacks and whites within the turn-of-the-century context of progressivism and reconciliation that frames Euphrasie's stoty. Ironically, such figures as La Chatte call to mind a disenfranchised black population whose presence and collective memoty speak both to the historical brutality of black-white relations undet slavery, as well as the dual hope and disappointment fostered by Reconstruction and the yeats beyond. However, in "A No-Account Creole" Chopin has no interest in confronting interracial politics: the stoty's sympathetic focus seems to leave room only for Placide as the real victim of post—Civil War social upheaval, and only for Euphrasie and Offdean as the inheritots of a New South full of potential fot New Women and their men. Yet through its concern for the impact of history on the lives of its white characters, Chopin's "A No-Account Creole" articulates a distinct preoccupation with white adjustment in the wake of black Emancipation , with the problem of internal ethnic and class divisions, and with the shift from rural to utban, from Southern to Northern bases of power. And it is precisely at the moments when Kate Chopin's stories about men and women engage the problems of particular racially- and regionally-bound identities that ideologies of white supremacy surface not just as a subject for her social commentaty, but indeed, as a sttuctuting discourse in her own fiction. Ranging anywhere from the benign paternalism of Henry W. Grady's orderly, segregated New South, to the racial radicalism of politician Benjamin Tillman and novelist Thomas Dixon, white supremacists most often articulated an anxiety ovet AngloAmerica 's perceived loss of economic and political power in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction, often at the vety histotical moment when African Americans themselves were struggling with the effects of widespread discrimination in the fotm of segregation, lynch law, and voter intimidation.2 Cleatly Chopin was no Thomas Dixon, but as has been said of Mark Twain in another context, the "force" of her fiction rests not "in the author's detached judgment against the world depicted, but in [her] . . . participation in such a world" (Rogin 74). In Chopin's story, Placide's anxiety of failure engages with but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 61-86
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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