Sylvia Lyons Render, Charles W. Chesnutt (Twayne Publishers, 1980. Pp. 1, 157. Chronology.)

    Focusing on Chesnuttís literary career this text covers his family background, first story written and ends with his last book The Colonelís Dream. Render thoroughly covers Chesnuttís career, but fails in giving enough biographical information on him. In fact, the author fakes the reader into believing the text is a biography on Chesnutt by dedicating 47 pages to his history. It then stops at his first short story, and the reader is taken on a journey into Chesnuttís literary works.

    Render argues that Chesnutt was one of the premier Black authors to express social views in his work. He was the voice of Blacks during Reconstruction and the beginning of the 20th century who spoke through his literary works. Render states her argument very clearly by showing how Chesnutt used literary devices to promote his cause. Render writes this book to give us an understanding of why Chesnutt chose to write what he did, by focusing on issues such as dialect, passing and race relations. Chesnutt wrote on these issues until his retirement from publications in 1905.

    Though retired, Chesnutt continued to stress the Black cause until his death. Looking at the chronology which is offered, it is obvious that Chesnutt lives a very fulfilled life continuing his cause, yet not through literary means. It almost seems as if Render feels that this aspect of his life is not important enough because she does not include it in her text.

    Despite this omission, Render does an excellent job of interpreting Chesnuttís work and tying it into his social views. Render was very analytical in her approach, her book is broken down into sections such as: "Milieu" which focuses on the regions Chesnutt grew up in, the speech patterns and dialects, and how he incorporates them into his fiction. Also discussed were superstitions, which incorporates all and breaks down barriers. In the chapter entitled "Fictional Folk," Render shows how Chesnutt used his characters to speak on the dark side of slavery which wasnít spoken of. Chesnutt did so by using stereotypical Blacks to get his points across. This chapter also focuses on how Chesnutt portrays his male and female characters. Chesnuttís female characters usually lack depth and are weak, yet Renderís analysis makes this appear as a good thing. In "Themes and Issues," Render focuses on issues that were important to Chesnutt and how he portrayed them in his texts. Issues such as White Supremacy, passing, inhumane laws of the time, color prejudice, voting, education, employment and violence are only some of the themes Chesnutt surrounds his book with. This is the pivotal chapter of Renderís book because it is the meat of her argument.

    Render also dedicates a chapter to Chesnuttís style which complimented the contemporary style, yet how he added his own flair. Render focuses on how Chesnutt was ahead of his time in his use of rhetoric, temper, points of view, description, development, mood, plot, symbolism, banter and irony. Render does a good job again in showing the reader exactly how Chesnutt uses these skills to advance his work and cause.

    Renderís approach is very analytical; she analyzes Chesnuttís general feelings and his texts to prove he thesis. Yet, through Renderís interpretation I was able to see things in Chesnuttís texts and interpret them differently from when I originally read them. Aspects that also seemed unclear in Chesnuttís texts were explained to me after reading Renderís book. Render is obviously biased in favor of Chesnutt and his literary works. Even negative aspects in his works such as the portrayal of women are given a "silver lining" by Render.

    This text is mainly theoretical with facts only on Chesnuttís life, the awards won and his publishing issues. Render uses other books and oral interviews to support these facts. Her theorizing, which is well organized, can be viewed as both social and political because Chesnutt wanted his books to advance the Black race. Therefore, this advance is obviously social and political. This is similar to the nature of the book, which can be placed in a social history category.

    Render concludes the book by showing the reception of Chesnuttís books by his readers. Render also shows how his career was marked by triumph and tragedy. Chesnuttís works demonstrated the coming of age of Black literature and demonstrated the quality of American democracy. Yet on the contrary, Chesnutt did not receive a good public reception and the conditions of Blacks only worsened. Renderís thesis agrees with the conclusion of the text, yet she speculates on reasons for Chesnuttís disappearance until his death. The conclusion should have included the information from the chronology to make the text more complete and succinct.

    Renderís text did help me in understanding what Chesnuttís motives were for writing his tales. It also gave additional information that was helpful. The book did show itself to be too much of a summary of Chesnuttís books. This becomes redundant for those that have read Chesnuttís tales, yet is not sufficient enough information for those that havenít read his books.

    The audience of this book is for intellectuals who would like to advance their knowledge on American writers because this text is included in a series, or for those doing research on Chesnutt. Most importantly, this book is for those looking to see how literature has made a change in society. I would recommend this book to those needing background information on Chesnuttís literary works, yet need little biographic information. Though the book starts off as a biography, it then goes into his literary works, therefore it doesnít seem as if the job is complete.

This page is the work of Nadezhda Galera

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