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The War on WordsSlavery, Race, and Free Speech in American Literature$
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Michael T. Gilmore

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780226294131

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226294155.001.0001

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Choking in Chesnutt

Choking in Chesnutt

(p.257) Choking in Chesnutt
The War on Words

Michael T. Gilmore

University of Chicago Press

Charles W. Chesnutt's writings, as a black author, reassert the minority's right to the ruling caste's technology of literacy. Chesnutt's dramatization in The Marrow of Tradition played an essential role in spreading the gospel of Redemption. Tradition crowned southern whites as masters and demoted blacks to slaves; though the “old order has passed away,” regressive ways of thinking, “deeply implanted in the consciousness of the two races, still persist.” Race prejudice has supplanted slavery as the country's enduring cause of oppression. Chesnutt claims that he examines without “pessimism” the intransigence of the old in the new, confident “that the forces of progress will in the end prevail. According to both The Marrow of Tradition and the novel that came after it, The Colonel's Dream (1905), the reconfiguration of slavery as race infiltrated almost all aspects of post-Reconstruction life, perhaps none more so than language.

Keywords:   Charles W. Chesnutt, minority, The Marrow of Tradition, Redemption, slaves, race prejudice, The Colonel's Dream, post-Reconstruction

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