By Charles Duncan
Following the hugely autobiographical nonfiction produced by means of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and different slave narrative writers, Chesnutt's complicated, multi-layered brief fiction remodeled the connection among African-American writers and their readers. yet regardless of beneficiant compliment from W. D. Howells and different vital critics of his day, and from such renowned readers as William L. Andrews, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Eric Sundquist in ours, Chesnutt occupies a apparently ambiguous position in American literary history.
In The Absent Man, Charles Duncan demonstrates that Chesnutt's uneasy place within the American literary culture might be traced to his notable narrative subtlety. Profoundly conscious of the delicacy of his state of affairs as a black highbrow on the flip of the century, Chesnutt infused his paintings with an complex, enigmatic creative imaginative and prescient that defies monolithic or unambiguously political interpretation, in particular with reference to problems with race and id that preoccupied him all through his career.
In this primary book-length research of the leading edge brief fiction, Duncan devotes specific awareness to elucidating those refined narrative recommendations because the grounding for Chesnutt's inauguration of a convention of African-American fiction.
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Post yr word: Paper version 1972. First released (hardcover) in 1988
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Additional resources for Absent Man: Narrative Craft Of Charles W. Chestnutt
Probing such sensitive topics required a deft touch for a turn-of-the-century black writer,and “TheWhite and the Black exemplifies some of the narrative strategies that typify Chesnutt’s work, especially histendency to present adivided account 31 32 The Absent Man. of hirnself. There are in this brief anecdote three manifestations of Chesnutt. First, as an essayist he uses this encounter to illustrate the logistical difficulties and the illogic that inevitably attend attempts to enforce a policy of racism.
This set of seven stories is a narratological tour deforce in which an educated white northerner, John, rhetorically engages the ex-slave yarn-spinner Julius. Chesnutt’s ability to “speak” for John should cause no surprise-apart from race designation, the authorshares interests and a common backgroundwith his white counterpart-but the accuracy withwhich he captures Julius’s voice merits particular attention. ~’ Indeed, his meticulous attention to detail in representing theverbal expressions of narrators of such distinctly varied backgrounds and social positions engenders much of the tension that makes these stories so rich.
Now, however, it is known that the authorof this stoly is of negro blood. (“Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt’s Stories”699) Howells’s opinion that the author’srace and allegiances are not readily detectable from his fiction speaks to Chesnutt’s cornmand of diverse voices. It also reflects the tendency of readers, even those as exceptionally skillfd andwell-intentioned as Howells, to welcome contextualizing data as a means of situatirzg themselves in relationship to Chesnutt. Despite the extent to which Chesnutt and his works frustrate attempts to categorize him, he continues to be defined almost exclusively in terms of an issue-racial prejudice-he had hoped would become obsolete.