MARROW OF TRADITION AND PUDD'NHEAD
WILSON INFLUENCED BY THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE AUTHORS?
Charles W. Chestnutt, a writer who is of mixed ancestry, and Mark Twain, a white author, focus on the theme of race combined with slavery and how it is represented as a problem that should be addressed or ignored. The influence of the portrayal of the characters are indicative of how the experiences of the authors are made manifest through their stories. I will show that comparisons of Chestnutt's The Marrow of Tradition and Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson are influenced by the consciousness of the authors.
In the Marrow of Tradition, the character Janet who is a mulatto, is not addressed as a main character but is the half-sister of Olivia Carteret. Jane, the family servant, tells Major Carteret that:
"Dis yer Janet, w'at's Mis' 'Livy's
half-sister, is ez much like her ez ef dey wuz twins. Folks sometimes takes
'em fer one ernudder, --I s'pose it tickles Janet mos' ter death, but it
do make Mis' 'Livy rippin'." (Marrow of Tradition 473)
The women look like twins and the only person that seems to have a problem with it is Olivia. Chestnutt does not have Janet identify Olivia as her sister to show the readers that the main concern of the whites was property and wealth. Identifying the facts that Janet and Olivia were sisters meant Janet would have to split the inheritance. Chestnutt posits both women as married to successful men and displays the thought of education as a key focus of obtaining wealth and notoriety. Chestnutt as omniscient narrator, reinforces this ideology of wealth and education as qualifying factors of caste when he writes:
"Had the girl Janet been poor,
ignorant, or degraded, as might well have been her fate, Mrs. Carteret
might have felt a vicarious remorse of her aunt's suppression of the papers;
but fate had compensated Janet for the loss; she had been educated, she
had married well; she had not suffered for lack of the money of which she
had been defrauded, and did not need it now. She had a child, it is true,
but this child's career would be so circumscribed by the accident of color
that too much wealth would only be a source of unhappiness; to her own
child, on the contrary, it would open every door of life." (Marrow of Tradition
Chestnutt himself kept numerous diaries and journals that emphasized his position on the education of Negroes as the source of freedom, strength and wealth.
Twain makes the character Rowena as appearing white:
"From Roxy's manner of speech,
a stranger would have expected her to be black, but she was not. Only one
sixteenth of her was black, and that sixteenth did not show. She was of
majestic form and stature, her attitudes were imposing and statuesque,
and her gestures and movements distinguished by a noble and stately grace.
Her complexion was very fair… She had an easy, independent carriage--when
she was among her own caste--and a high and "sassy" way, withal; but of
course she was meek and humble enough where white people were. To all intents
and purposes Roxy was as white as anybody, but the one sixteenth of her
which was black outvoted the other fifteen parts and made her a Negro."
(Pudd'nhead Wilson 29)
The fact that Roxy appears white does not alter the significance of the drop of black blood that tainted her and made her a slave. The language in the description of Roxy indicates the regard of her appearance as white in an almost strong light. Twain makes Roxy appear as a "goddess" in his description that purports his views in the positive light of white women as powerful queens. Twain unconsciously exposes his opinion of white superiority in this narration as he describes Roxy in this manner.
The factors of education and color as the prominent representation of status and identity is clearly defined by Twain when in the last chapter of the book, he concludes, " money and fine clothes could not mend these defects or cover them up; they only made them the more glaring and the more pathetic." (Pudd'nhead Wilson 166) This revelation by Twain is consistent with views that he was not an advocate of the mixing of the races when he implies that the Negro race is a defect to humanity. In this statement he adamantly agrees that identity of good qualities of character are not fixable by education or money. The words imply the fact that preservation of the white race as a superior people is important to Twain. Twain exhibits in his prose that blacks can only get ahead by deceit and that "black blood" makes one into a bad person. Even then, the black person does not get over on the whites, but is soon found out and his deception wins him a "trip down the river."
The social repercussions that are expressed in the outcome of the Marrow of Tradition insinuates the choices that people black or white have in establishing strength of character in their identity of humans and not as a color. The issues of race are depicted as more violent and extreme. The presentation of the characters are more vivid in that they stereotype the diction, non-education and horrid treatment by whites in the tale. In comparison, Pudd'nhead Wilson does not show a mean master or any real violence toward the slaves. Slaves were presented as socially tolerable as long as they kept their place.
The figurative language and the style of the environmental factors that influence both Chestnutt and Twain's lives are factors that influence their beliefs in their novels. Authorizing the satire of the black and white issue by twinning is made apparent by both authors. The fact that education is of utmost importance by Chestnutt, (as was the case in obtaining his personal goals), was not shared by Twain. Clothes and wealth as stated before do not mean anything to Twain but the "pureness" of blood was the epitome of the superior human race. Twain, like Roxy, was so used to "recognizing this relation outwardly…it became automatic and unconscious." (Pudd'nhead Wilson) Chestnutt realized that as he came to terms in understanding the racism in the South, the mindset of society would not change.
This page is the work of DeAnn Witter
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