Mack Ervin, Jr.
ENG689 Introduction to Graduate English Studies
The Marrow of Tradition
Charles W. Chesnutt composed at least fifty works of literature within a two-decade period at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to penning Frederick Douglas A Biography, he authored dozens of articles and stories and was the first Black author to be published in The Atlantic Weekly. In The Marrow of Tradition, Chesnutt cleverly illustrates the true nature of what is was like to live in the southern United States of America at that time. It was not just the usual Black diaspora existence, but it also included the cultured lifestyle of Black people occupying a middle to upper middle-class existence. Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition fictionalized real life events that were experienced by Blacks, including some of his own relatives who subsequently survived the horrific attack. This text has been generally used within classes dealing with realism/realistic fiction which refers to a work being true to life or mimicking real life (events). However, in his article "A Living Death": Gothic Signification and the Nadir in The Marrow of Tradition”, Gerald Ianovici claims that Chessnutt has actually produced a novel that has many of the Gothic Literature traditions. Ianovici accurately identifies major elements of the Gothic genre in The Marrow of Tradition; Chesnutt’s “Marrow” is not just realism, it also mirrors a Gothic novel
One of the key elements of Gothic Literature is that of confinement or entrapment. While they are different they encompass some of the same elements. The basic and most relatable one being that a human being has no genuine control of their destiny. They are either confined to a certain status in life or entrapped to another enslaving institution that offers no more freedom than the prior:
You are mistaken, sir, in imagining me hostile to the negro...On the contrary, I am friendly to his best interests. I give him employment; I pay taxes for schools to educate him, and for court-houses and jails to keep him in order. I merely object to being governed by an inferior and servile race. (Chessnutt 25)
This statement by Major Carteret accurately displays the feelings of White southerners towards Blacks during and after Reconstruction in the South. Blacks (the Millers specifically) were proving that they were more than capable of handling their new freedom and a benefit to their society. But, true to Gothic traditions, The Marrow of Tradition shows that in a paternalistic, authoritative society it is very difficult to escape the societal caste system. The statement also demonstrates what awaits newly freed Blacks should they “get out of order”, jail. Whites had a plan to jail Blacks (confinement) if they could not control them. Blacks were faced with the prospect of, “…permanent confinement to a second-class status” (Ianovici 3). Even with the end of slavery, Blacks could not escape th...