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Black And White Essay, Research Paper

Black and White

Following the Civil War, just prior to the turn of the century, many

American novelist were writing more freely of the previous slave culture. Two

of these writers being Mark Twain and Charles Chesnutt. Mark Twain was a

popular ?white? author by this time. Charles Chesnutt, the son of free blacks,

decided to pursue a dream of becoming an author in order to remove the spirit of

racism. By studying these authors in particular, the views of a white raised in

the slave holding south are juxtaposed with the views of free black. Both Twain

and Chesnutt satirize whites in different ways through their literature. Twain

also displays some unfavorable preconceptions of blacks. This can be attributed

to his own upbringing in the slave holding south.

The main character of the Chesnutt stories is an old Negro man,

previously a slave, who engages his new white employers in many tales about life

on the plantation. Uncle Julius relays these stories with much detail. Though,

at the conclusion of each, the reader is left wondering whether the tale was

true or if Uncle Julius had conceived of it merely to satisfy his own desires.

Chesnutt has added to the end of each story an ulterior motive of Uncle Julius

that seems to be met by the telling of his tales. By doing this, Chesnutt

discretely satirizes whites in general.

In the first story, The Goophered Grapevine, Uncle Julius tells of a

conjure woman putting a ?goopher? on the grapevines, causing all blacks that eat

the grapes to die within one year. This story is relayed upon the first meeting

of the northern white couple (John and Annie) and the native South Carolinian.

After telling his tale of Henry and the others that suffered from this spell,

Uncle Julius concludes that these northerners should not buy this vineyard,

adding conveniently that he is not afraid to eat the grapes because he know the?

ole vimes fum de noo ones.?

John decides to buy the farm in spite of Uncle Julius’s warnings, but he

does offer him employment as a coachman. It seems as if Uncle Julius had been

trying to guarantee his usefulness on the plantation even after its sale. Was

white man tricked into believing Julius’ knowledge would be useful in the

renewing of the vineyards? Chesnutt lets the reader wonder, but regardless of

his tale being the reason for his employment, Uncle Julius gets to stay on the

land and receives a wage to compensate for any money he may have lost in the

sale of the vineyard.

As the family settles into their new home the wife sees a need for a new

kitchen. There is an abandoned schoolhouse on the corner of the property that

could serve for some of the wood to build with. Uncle Julius hears of the idea

and is immediately reminded of another story.

Chesnutt has titled this story Po’ Sandy. In this story Uncle Julius

tells of a strong, hardworking slave, Sandy, that was tired of being sent away

to wok for the Master’s grown children. His wife Tenie, conjure woman, places a

spell on Sandy turning him into a tree. Sandy continued to have problems in

this state. Tenie decides to turn him back and run off with him one night.

Unfortunately, Tenie was sent to nurse her master’s daughter-in-law and by the

time she returned the tree had been sent to the mill. Sandy was used to build

the kitchen, that later became the old schoolhouse at the corner of the

plantation. Tenie died on the floor of that schoolhouse mourning her husband.

This story so disturbed Annie that she refused to use any old lumber

from the schoolhouse. At the conclusion Annie also admits that she has given

Uncle Julius permission to use the old schoolhouse for meetings of the new

Colored Baptist Church. Yet again Uncle Julius has received some sort of

benefit from the telling of his tales. This leads the reader to believe that

he had this ulterior motive in mind the entire time. Chesnutt seems to be

satirizing the unknowing white woman.

In the final selection chosen from the works of Chesnutt, Uncle Julius

tells the story of Dave’s Neckliss. Dave, a good Christian slave, is accused of

stealing a ham from the smokehouse and forced to wear a ham chained around his

neck for punishment. Wiley, the real thief, had set Dave up because he loved

the girl that Dave had been going around with. When this was discovered, the

master tried to make reconciliation by telling all the slaves. Dave had already

lost his senses a little and thought he was a ham. Uncle Julius later found him

hanging the smokehouse.

Uncle Julius explains how he cannot eat more than two or three pounds of

ham without having to stop and think about Dave. John asks for ham at breakfast

the next morning. Annie first claims that ham was too heavy for breakfast, but

admits that she had given it all to Uncle Julius. Annie has been outsmarted

once more by a black man.

These three example show Chesnutt is satirizing the whites. He shows,

through Uncle Julius’ stories, that blacks have the ability to beguile whites in

order to have their own motives met. Thus Chesnutt portrays blacks possessing

greater intelligence than many at the time accepted. He does this very

discretely through the black folk stories of supernatural, but the surrounding

satire is still apparent.

Twain also satirizes whites in his novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, more

specifically the whites of the slave holding south. This is brought out

originally in the scene where Wilson receives his name. The serious attitudes

of property prevents the white towns people from understanding the joke Wilson

makes about the dog. For the reader it is apparent that Twain is pointing out

the stupidity of the towns people rather than that of Wilson.

Twain also shows Roxy as a black that is in a small way superior to the

townsfolk. She is able to outsmart the entire town, including her own master,

by switching her own child with her master’s son. Ironically, the only white

who figures out this scheme is Wilson, the person the townspeople labeled a?

pudd’nhead.? Here, Twain again satirizes the whites of the south by showing

their ignorance. These people are so preoccupied with the idea of race, yet

they cannot tell the difference between a person they would label ?nigger? and a


Twain also raises some questions regarding the nature of race. Are

their innate qualities of race or does it depend entirely on ones upbringing?

Twain questions nature versus nurture. In the story Tom is a white boy that

possesses black blood and Chambers is ?white.? Twain spends some time comparing

these boys as they grow up. He says, Tom ?was a bad baby from the very

beginning.? He was given anything he desired. Tom grew to be small and weak,

while Chambers grew big and strong. Twain points to the difference in diet and

activity. Tom ate sweets and was waited on, while Chambers was ?coarsely fed?

and worked around the house.

Although Twain states that Tom was bad from the start, the reader is

left wondering what would have happened if he had received Chambers discipline,

diet, and work load. At the conclusion of the book, the white townspeople of

Dawson’s Landing blame Tom’s awful behavior on the drop of black blood that he

possesses. Though, Twain seems to be saying that it was his white upbringing

that made him into the man became. This also satirizes the whites of Dawson’s

Landing, showing them as simple minded.

Twain also questions the self-concept of blacks. Here we see some of

Twain’s racist attitudes displayed. He tries to show the irony of the blacks

view of themselves in the case of Roxy. Though Roxy has no physical

characteristics that distinguish her as black in her own mind that is what she

is. From the very start of her life she has worn that label and her personality

has been patterned after that. Her dialect is poor and uneducated just as she

herself is. She has not been schooled as to the proper manners of a lady and

thus she is crass and vulgar at times. All of these outward facets of Roxy’s

personality expose her as black, though her features do not.

Even being raised in this manner, Twain portrays Roxy as feeling

superior to the other slaves because of her white heritage. At one time she

says to Jasper, another slave, ?I got somep’n’ better to do den ’sociat’n’ wid

niggers as black as you is.? This was all in jest, but throughout the book

Twain shows Roxy as having a low view of blacks, especially her own black

heritage. When scolding her son Tom for refusing to challenge the twins, Roxy

blames his cowardice on ?de nigger? in him. After noting all of the predominant

white members of his pedigree, she concludes that ?de nigger? is his soul.

Twain seems to have some assumptions of his own that blacks have no pride

in their own heritage.

Twain and Chesnutt both satirize whites, but in different ways. Twain,

being a white, satirizes the slave holding south, rather than whites in general.

Chesnutt, on the other hand, uses a couple from the north in a story set in the

free south. Chesnutt also is more descrete in his satire, while Twain pokes fun

directly. Twain also displays some of his own prejudices, being a white trying

to explain the black culture. On the contrary, Chesnutt honestly portrays

blacks from an inside perspective. Roxy was ashamed of the black blood in her,

while Uncle Julius seemed to be a proud old man, happy to tell of his black

friends and past. From the analysis these literary selections we can gain a

greater understanding of racial views but, one may say that everything is not as

simple as black and white

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