Thursday, November 6, 2008

Charles Chesnutt

First off...I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Chesnutt's practice of putting a twist at the end of his stories. He totally caught me off-guard every single time, constantly surprising me. You would think that I would catch on to his tactics by the fourth story, but his lack of foreshadowing or set-up for the narratives constantly left me blindsided, shocked, and thoroughly amused.

These twists reminded me a lot of the Southwestern humor we talked about earlier in class -- both in the elements of the trickster being tricked and in the use of dialect. The "trickster tricked" part is especially interesting. In Chesnutt's stories, it's always the supposedly smart white man being outsmarted by the black man. While Dick's father thinks he is being so smart and "tricky" by convincing Grandison how evil the abolitionists were and how much better off he would be at the plantation down South. However, his efforts only end up aiding the ploys of Grandison, who parrots his master's ridiculous statements in order to sound like a good slave.

True, the stories all seem to fall into the same formulaic pattern and preach the same anti-racist, anti-slavery message at the end. It seems that the stories would become predictable and uninteresting to readers. However, I think that the particular stories we read were so well-received partially because of this pattern. For the general population (which is not necessarily made up of literary scholars!) such a pattern probably helped them feel comfortable with Chesnutt's writing, giving them the feeling that they were acquainted with an author. Also, having an element of surprise to look forward to at the end was probably somewhat addicting, especially because the endings are so unpredictable!


PuddleWonderful said...

I agree that for most of the stories, I had no hint at their curious endings because of the lack of foreshadowing. The only story I guessed the twist was "The Wife of His Youth" but only because Mr. Ryder looked into the mirror after seeing 'Liza Jane's photo of her long lost husband. I would be interested in reading more of his stories even though the dialect is a bit scary and intimidating.

D. Campbell said...

Especially in the conjure stories, the "trick" becomes not so much that Julius will win out over John and Annie, for we've seen him do it before. The "twist" lies in the way that he does it and the way in which he benefits from it.

szeiner said...

I really agree with what you said about Chesnutt, at first I was so frusterated by the dialect that I had no interest in the stories, but after the discussion in class I realized thay they have a lot of depth and humor.