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Conjure Woman Reviews

The colored man is by no means alone in his dread of the supernatural, for there are educated whites who are unable to rid themselves of an ill-defined believe in ghosts and spiritual manifestations; but what, to the white man, is a lingering superstition which he ridicules himself for entertaining, becomes to the man of color an intensely vivid reality. Every graveyard is to him the gathering place of ghosts innumerable; solitary spots, especially if associated with memories of crime or sudden death, are dreaded and shunned as dangerous; in short, the untutored mind of the negro exults into supernatural importance every incident of which he does not instantly perceive the significance. the old mammy of New Orleans who regarded an epidemic of yellow fever as a visitation of Providence upon the whites, who were the principal sufferers, for their violation of the law of nature by making ice in the summertime, was a type of a very large class, which, not understanding the operations of an ice plant, placed them in the same category with the incantations of a voodoo doctor.

As hinted by Charles W. Chesnutt in the "Conjure Woman" (Houghton, Mifflin & Co.), the negro imagination is especially fertile when it deals with the terrible. The idea of a kindly spirit, returning to earth to cheer and bless, to lead and encourage those left behind when it departed from the body, probably never occurred to the African mind. The negro ghost is the most dreadful of invention of which the human imagination is capable. There is nothing of the vague or indefinite about it; it has eyes of fire, features striped green and red, blue hair standing up straight from its head. its appearance, however long expected, is not the less terrible from the fact that it is anticipated. One might suppose from the persistence with which the Southern man and brother looks for ghosts that he would feel a measure of disappointment if he did not find them and so not worry about them, but quite the contrary is the case. the more he looks for them, the greater his fright when he thinks there is a possibility of their appearance, and as for getting used to them, that is as easy and pleasant as the process of accustoming oneself to be hung.

Whether the African ghost is a discovery or an evolution is of no particular consequence; neither does it matter whether it came from Africa or grew up in the South during the days of slavery. Its natural history is as little known as its origin, and its principal uses are to keep the Southern darky in a state of mind bordering on lunacy, and to adorn a tale for the amusement of people to whom the ghost is as real as the Jabberwock and as well known as the Jibbenainosey.

Anon. "Review of The Conjure Woman." In: Book Chat, St. Louis Democrat. (July 9, 1899): n.p.