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Charles W. Chesnutt's Own View of His New Story The Marrow of Tradition

Charles W. Chesnutt's Own View of His New Story "The Marrow of Tradition"

I have been asked to make for this page a brief summary of the motive and chief points of my forthcoming novel, "The Marrow of Tradition." The primary object of the story, as it should be of every work of fiction, is to entertain; and yet it belongs in the category of purpose novel, inasmuch as it seeks to throw light upon the vexed moral and sociological problems which grow out of the presence, in our southern states, of two diverse races, in nearly equal numbers.

The title of the book fairly embodies the theme, which is an attempt to picture, through the medium of dramatic narrative, the atmosphere in which these problems must be worked out—an atmosphere of which the dominant note is Tradition.

Tradition made the white people masters, rulers, who absorbed all the power, the wealth, the honors of the community, and jealously guarded this monopoly, with which they claimed to be divinely endowed, by denying to those who were not of their caste the opportunity to acquire any of these desirable things.

Tradition, on the other hand made the negro a slave, an underling, existing by favor and not by right, his place the lowest in the social scale, to which, by the same divine warrant, he was hopelessly confined.

The old order has passed away, but these opinions, deeply implanted in the consciousness of two races, still persist, and "The Marrow of Tradition" seeks to show the efforts of the people of a latter generation to adjust themselves in this traditional atmosphere to the altered conditions of a new era.

There is no subject of more vital interest to the student of history or of life than the upward struggle of a race, as there is no issue of greater importance to the nation than a right settlement of the race problem.

As to the story, it must speak for itself. It has several threads of interest, the chief incidents being concerned with the fate of the child of a proud old family related by unacknowledged tie to the family of a colored doctor. The father of the child leads a reactionary political movement against the negro, while the doctor is at the head of an enterprise for the education and uplifting of his people. There is a crime, followed by a threatened lynching. There is an episode of injury and revenge, another of wrong and forgiveness.

Among the characters are a typical old "mammy," a faithful servant who is willing to die for his master and an ideal old aristocrat who practically sacrifices his life to save that of his servant. The incidents of the race riot described in the story were studied from two recent outbreaks of that kind—one in Wilmington, N. C., and the other in New Orleans.

The political element of the story involves a fair statement, I believe, of the course and the underlying motives of the recent and temporarily successful movement for the disfranchisement of the colored race in the south, and particularly in North Carolina, where there was less excuse for it than in any other state where it has been carried through.

There is a love story with a happy ending. The book is not a study in pessimism, for it is the writer's belief that the forces of progress will in the end prevail, and that in time a remedy may be found for every social ill.

It may interest the readers of my previous books to learn that "The Marrow of Tradition" admits of an ending which is at the same time consistent with the canons of good art and satisfying to the emotions.