The Marrow of Tradition
|The Marrow of Tradition|
|Publication date||October 1901|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
The Marrow of Tradition (1901) is a historical novel by the African-American author Charles Chesnutt, set at the time and portraying a fictional account of the Wilmington Race Riot in North Carolina in 1898.
This is a fictional account of the rise of the white supremacist movement, specifically as it contributed to what was originally referred to as the "race riots" that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. Critics argue over what would be a more proper term; some favor "massacre" while a North Carolina state commission ruled that it was a coup d'etat, the only overthrow of a legitimately elected government in United States history. Whites attacked and killed blacks in the city and overthrew the county government, establishing white supremacists in power.
Set in the fictional town of Wellington, The Marrow of Tradition features several interweaving plots that encompass the poles of the racially segregated society of the American South at the turn of the century. One plot follows Major Carteret, the white owner of the major Wellington newspaper, as he colludes with several other powerful white men to take political control of the town. They are outraged about a provocative editorial published in a black paper that questioned white justifications for lynchings. As the town’s unrest intensifies, Carteret faces domestic pressures; his only child Dodie and wife Olivia are both unwell. Carteret’s niece Clara, recently introduced to society, is courted by the young Tom Delamere, a handsome and conniving aristocrat who spends most evenings nurturing his penchant for drink and cards. His habits are contrasted with those of Lee Ellis, a rival for Clara, and William Miller, a young black physician who with his wife has returned to his hometown of Wellington to practice medicine. He gained his medical education in Paris and Vienna. Though jarred by segregation and Jim Crow racism, Miller sets up his practice and starts his life. Josh Green as a boy witnessed the murder of his father at the hands of a white man—a character named Captain McBane—and is intent on exacting revenge.
All these subplots are forced to a crisis through two events: the beginning of the riot and the murder of a white woman, Polly Ochiltree, for which a black servant, Sandy Campbell, is arrested. Tom Delamere is the real culprit.
In this web of plotlines, Josh Green, whom Miller is unable to persuade to pursue racial equality along peaceable lines, ends up walking into the face of attackers to try to satisfy vengeance and kill McBane. Miller goes to the aid of Sandy Campbell to stave off a lynching. He is asked to give medical care to Carteret’s baby boy, although the publisher had helped foment the riot. A stray bullet has killed Miller's infant son. The novel ends with Miller, setting aside his own losses, agreeing to go to Carteret’s home to aid his dying son.
|This section requires expansion. (June 2008)|
The novel was written in direct refutation of many of sensationalized accounts of the “race riot” in Wilmington. These accounts included inaccurate news reports and a series of white supremacist novels. These accounts were the only ones available to readers in the North, whose knowledge was limited to what was readily available in print.
Chesnutt himself reflected on the book in 1905, answering a letter on behalf of a high school student: "The book was received by the public with respect, but not with any great enthusiasm. By the public I mean the great reading public whose opinion is reflected by the newspapers and magazines which reflect public opinion. It had a fair sale, but was criticized as being bitter. I did not intend it to be so. Nor do I think it was."
Allusions/references to history
The novel portrays the many classes and races in the postbellum southern United States, and portrays the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898.
The book comments on Frances Harper's novel Iola Leroy and Booker T. Washington's famous Atlanta Address of 1895. Its criticism of the non-confrontational approach to race relations is expressed by the character of Dr. William Miller.
- Mike Baker (AP), "1898 Race Clash Ruled a Coup", Washington Post, 31 May 2006, accessed 23 August 2012
- McElrath, Joesph R., Jr. "W. D. Howells and Race: Charles W. Chesnutt's Disappointment of the Dean". Nineteenth-Century Literature. Vol. 51, No. 4 (Mar., 1997): 498.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|