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Title:Mining the garrison of racial prejudice: The fiction of Charles W. Chesnutt and turn-of-the-century White racial discourse
Author(s):Nowatzki, Robert Carl
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Watts, Emily S.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
History, United States
Literature, American
Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies
Abstract:This dissertation analyzes the fiction of Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858-1932), the first black fiction writer published by a major American firm and widely reviewed and read by white critics and readers. My analysis focuses on the conflict between Chesnutt's anti-racism and his attempt to make his critiques less threatening to his white publishers, critics, and readers. In order to demonstrate the ideological and discursive forces that Chesnutt resisted, I juxtapose his works with fiction and nonfiction prose by popular white authors and reviews of his work by white critics. Chapter One provides the biographical, historical, ideological, and literary contexts of Chesnutt's work. Each of the following five chapters examines one of Chesnutt's books of fiction alongside literature by whites which deals with similar subjects and often expresses popular racist assumptions that Chesnutt's fiction contests. Each chapter also demonstrates how white reviewers of his work often reiterated the racism that he resisted and dismissed him as a biased "Negro" author. Chapter Two interprets Chesnutt's collection of plantation tales The Conjure Woman (1899) along with plantation fiction by Thomas Nelson Page and Joel Chandler Harris and pro-slavery nonfiction essays by Page and Philip Alexander Bruce. Chapter Three examines the treatment of miscegenation and depiction of mulattoes in Chesnutt's collection of stories The Wife of His Youth (1899) in conjunction with anti-miscegenation literature by Page, Thomas Dixon, Jr., William Smith, and William Calhoun. Chapter Four focuses on the issue of passing and the "tragic octoroon" convention in Chesnutt's novel The House Behind the Cedars (1900) and in novels by William Dean Howells, Gertrude Atherton, and Albion Tourgee. Chapter Five analyzes how Chesnutt's 1901 novel The Marrow of Tradition critiques the black disfranchisement, segregation, and racial violence defended by Page, Dixon, Calhoun, Smith, and Bruce. Chapter Six interprets Chesnutt's critique of sectional conflict and the "New South Creed" in his 1905 novel The Colonel's Dream along with Henry Grady's 1886 "New South" speech and literature by Tourgee, Harris, Page, Dixon, and Bruce. Chapter Seven briefly surveys the neglect and subsequent recovery of Chesnutt's fiction since his death, and emphasizes the importance of studying his work in its historical, ideological, and literary contexts.
Issue Date:1995
Rights Information:Copyright 1995 Nowatzki, Robert Carl
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9543685
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9543685

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