This essay examines Paul Marchand, F.M.C., Charles Chesnutt’s 1921 historical romance about New Orleans a century earlier, which features a main character, a free man of color, who discovers that he is actually white and heir to a fortune. Rather than reading this plot twist as a simple reversal of the “passing” trope, I interpret it as a meditation on the shape and quality of “Events,” a concept adapted in this essay from critical theory, especially Alain Badiou’s Being and Event. I argue that Chesnutt challenges timelines of progress and identity by crafting a sudden moment in Paul’s life that shifts the terms of change itself. The novel not only plays with doubt and delayed revelations; Chesnutt asks us to think beyond certainty yet still make decisions that account for something as unexpected as overnight change. Such temporal considerations also shed light on Chesnutt’s late-career essays on racial mixture and on appropriate subjects for African American fiction.


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pp. 523-542
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