In response to this threatening movement, Southern authors popularized the plantation tradition genre Of Southern writing. This genre, catapulted into prominence by Thomas Nelson Page, idealized the Pre-War South, illustrating a place where slaves seemed content with their place in society, masters were seen as powerful yet generous, and the relationships between slaves and their masters was healthy and similar to the relationship between a loyal dog and his loving owner. Stories like Page’s “Mares Chain” illustrate a picture of the Old South with loyal slaves and kind winners.
The story also depicts the new South as a desolate, run down place. Many authors, such as Charles Waddled Senescent, appear to reminisce on the Old South and feature many elements of the plantation tradition genre. Senescent was an author, essayist, and lawyer born in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 20, 1858. Notably, Senescent was of mixed-raced, a phenomenon that would be heavily reflected in his work. Being a mixed-race man from the North, Senescent thought of the plantation tradition genre to be somewhat skewed, as it did not give a fair representation of African-Americans.
However, Chunters publisher, Houghton Muffling and Company, declined to publish his “Nan-plantation tradition,” and swayed his works in the direction of this genre in order to increase readership. Under these circumstances, Senescent introduced his own version of the plantation tradition genre, which can be seen in his short story collection called The Conjuring Woman and Chemist’s short story “The Passing of Grandson. ” On the surface, Chemist’s short stories seem to embody the various elements of plantation tradition, yet they are subtlety subversive to it as his stories critique the racial ideologies embedded in the genre.
The aim of Chemist’s works was to change the traditional depictions of African-Americans and illustrate them as complex and intelligent people. Page’s plantation tradition and other similar literary works were not the only vehicles that represented African-Americans in an abysmal way, as most periodicals in the late sass’s did the same. In the Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper The Courier, an author notes “Because for one reason, the black man’s poverty and natural condition have made it necessary for him to study the tastes and manners of white men” Monsoons).
An article in the Jewish South also describes white sentiment towards African-Americans stating “But is it comparing Jews as citizens with Negroes that the Exponent does the greatest wrong… Our people do not possess the criminal instincts of the colored race. A careful lifelong observation of the Negroes compels us to admit that education has made them more immoral and dishonest” (Ezekiel). Although not everyone carried this sentiment towards African-Americans, nearly all publications at the time depicted them in a negative or simplistic way.
Senescent surely realized the unfair portrayal of African-Americans and ought to fix it through his works. As noted earlier, a clear denunciation of racism, or an obvious flip of the racial hierarchy would have been unwelcome by most white readers. Therefore, in order to enhance the popularity of his books, Senescent modeled his stories in the form off plantation tale, yet left subtle traces of his goals by illustrating African- Americans as complex and intelligent people. In “The Passing of Grandson,” Senescent appears to set up a classic plantation tale.
The story revolves around a young heir to a plantation named Dick Owens, who wants to assist the escape of one of his father’s slaves In order to impress his sweetheart The story is set in the early 1 ass’s, just following the passage of the federal Fugitive Slave Law. Dick decides to take a slave named Grandson to the North and gives him numerous opportunities to escape. Despite the temptations, Grandson acts as a loyal slave to his master and does not escape. Desperate to impress his lover, Dick has Grandson kidnapped in order to get him out of the picture.
Four weeks later, Grandson returns to the plantation. “He did not even scold Grandson; how could he, indeed, find fault with one who so sensibly recognized his true place n the economy of civilization, and kept it with such touching fidelity'(Senescent 44). At this point in the Story, Grandson embodies the typical image of a slave depicted in plantation tradition literature. Grandson is dependent to his Wise master. He can also be seen as blindly loyal, as most readers would regard Grandson as stupid for not taking the easy chances to gain freedom in the North.
However, the readers encounter a surprising twist at the stories conclusion when Grandson and his entire family cleverly escape the country. Grandson conforms to expectations up until escaping to Canada. This defies plantation tradition because, quite simply, the slave outsmarts the master. The story of Grandson is perhaps the most obvious example of Senescent portraying the intelligence of African-Americans, as even contemporary readers would have noticed Grandson’s wit and patience.
This story offers a critique of the traditional racial ideologies of plantation tradition as the slave is not ignorant and loyal, but rather ingenious, cunning, and independent. Another way in which Senescent challenges the racial principles Of plantation tradition is in the contrast between the characters of Julius and John. The notion of white superiority is subtlety undermined in “The Gray Wolfs Haunt. ” The tale begins with John’s wife, Annie, asking him to read to her because she is feeling bored.
Despite his efforts, Annie responds poorly, complaining ‘”John, I wish you would stop reading that nonsense and see who that is coming up the lane”‘ (Senescent 164). Moments later, Julius tells John and Annie a tale about slave named Dan who transforms into a gray wolf. As with all of Julius’ stories throughout the collection, Annie responds positively, imposing a contrast between her reaction to John and her reaction to Julius. Nannies liking of Julius’ tale reduces the authority of John, a white man, and puts value on the perspective of Julius, a black man.
Chemist’s juxtaposition is subtle enough that most readers would not notice his motives, yet he is purposely flipping the traditional racial hierarchy of plantation tradition in order to provide a more favorable image of African-Americans. John’s response to Julius’ stories illustrates John’s shortcomings and ignorance. Julius’ supernatural tales throughout The Conjure Woman metaphorically outline the hardships of slavery. For example, in “Pop Sandy,” a lave named Sandy gets transformed into a tree in order to escape the constant separation from his loved Ones that comes with being a slave.
Despite his attempt to escape slavery, he is eventually brutally chopped into wood pieces, illustrating what happens to runaway slaves. Annie is clearly disturbed by the story, but she is extremely sympathetic towards Sandy illustrating that she understands some of the horrors of slavery, ‘”What a system it was,’ she exclaimed, when Julius had finished, ‘under which such things were possible! ‘” (Senescent 60). John, on the other hand, seems to miss he point of the story and replies, ” that things? Are you seriously considering the possibility of a man being turned into a tree? ” (Senescent 60).
Senescent uses John’s reaction to send a subtle message to the readers that white men are often ignorant to the horrors of slavery. Just as John cannot wrap his head around the tale of Sandy, many whites have moral constraints that limit their ability to be compassionate towards African-Americans. Nannies reactions to Julius are similar to the way a child might react to an adult. Additionally, Nannies decision to not use the schoolhouse’s lumber to build err kitchen demonstrates the fact that Julius’ stories seem to have an influence on her actions. Thus, Julius can almost be viewed as a moral teacher to Annie.
The prospect of Julius as a moral teacher to a white woman would be strongly rejected by most white readers, yet Senescent makes it subtle enough that it would not have registered with the majority of them. “Pop Sandy” has various characteristics of plantation tradition, such as a sophisticated and logical white man and a goofy and uneducated black man. Still, Senescent brilliantly defies the customary racial hierarchy of this genre and presents a new one of his own. A final way in which Senescent subverts the traditional racial ideologies Of plantation tradition is in Julius’ shrewdness.
Contemporary white readers may regard Julius as brainless due to his dialect and absurd tales. Yet, an observant reader would see that Senescent has quietly characterized Julius as shrewd and clever. Although Julius’ tales appear like the pointless rambling that African-American’s typically do in most plantation tradition works, his stories actually serve a purpose. For example, in “Pop Sandy,” Julius’ supernatural tale leads to Annie deciding she does not want her kitchen to be lilt out of lumber from the old schoolhouse.
While this may seem like an insignificant effect of Julius’ story, it is later revealed that Julius ends up using the old schoolhouse for a church. When asked how he will deal with the ghost of Sandy during his use of the schoolhouse he cleverly makes an excuse noting “that ghosts never disturb religious worship, but that if Sandy’s spirit should happen to stray into meeting by mistake, no doubt the preaching would do it good” (Senescent 63). It can be inferred that Julius crafted the story of Sandy in order to deter Annie and John from taking down the old schoolhouse so he could use it for his own benefit.
Julius’ ability to retain the schoolhouse is one of the many examples throughout The Conjure Woman of Julius outthinking and Annie. Still, contemporary publishing companies and readers throughout the Country would have rejected the prospect of a black man manipulating a white man and his wife, so Senescent had to convey it very faintly. Julius’ ingenuity and complexity as a character is in sharp contrast to the ignorant and simplistic African-American characters that were seen throughout literature during this time. Thus, it can be seen that Senescent is attempting to recreate the traditional view of African-Americans through his work.
When writing The Conjure Woman and “The Passing of Grandson,” Senescent was faced with two options. The first option was to write traditional plantation tales that would be published and receive positive feedback from white readers. His second option was to sacrifice commercial sales and write groundbreaking but unpopular stories that would clearly denounce the traditional depiction of African-Americans and portray them as superior or equal to whites. Senescent chose a middle ground, where he wrote stories that allowed the conventions of the plantation tradition, yet he subtly critiqued the traditional view of African-Americans.
Chunters success in changing contemporary sentiment towards African-Americans is difficult to determine, but one can easily imagine how the faint messages Senescent made regarding race could fail to register with most white readers. In a speech Senescent gave in 1 928, he said “My books were written, from one point of view, a generation too soon. There was no such demand then as there is now for books by and about colored people. ” Social change often is only realized well after the event, as is the case with many of Chemist’s literary works.