Charles Waddell Chestnutt: as American Novelist

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      Charles Waddell Chestnutt (1858-1932), a famous African American short story writer and a novelist, was born in Cleaveland, Ohio, to the parents who recently had left Fayetteville, North Carolina, to escape the repression in the south. After the Civil War, the family returned Fayetteville, where Chesnutt’s education included instruction in German, French and Greek. Having taught as a school teacher in Carolinas in 1888 he went to New York City to work as a reporter and then moved to Cleveland where he began his carrier as writer.

      When, his short story “The Goophered Grapevine” was published in Atlantic Monthly in 1887 rapidly he mastered the conventions of the short story aimed at readers of the popular literary magazines of his day. His simple, urban, and fluent style is seen in his first two collections of short stories, The Vonjure Women (1899) and The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line (1899). Despite his adoption of prevailing literary forms, Chesnutt is considered a pioneer of African American fiction, with his probing exploration of racial themes and realistic view of the slavery and the Reconstruction Era. In his later works, he focused on the problems of racial and class identity in a changing society. Besides, he wrote three novels - The House behind the Cedars (1900), The Marrow of Tradition (1901), and The Colonel’s Dream (1906). He regularly published essays and reviews in various journals. He also wrote a biography of Frederick Douglass, was ahead of his time. His short stories dwell on the racial themes but avoid predictable endings and generalized sentiment. The characters are distinct individuals with complex attitudes about many things, including race. Chesnutt often shows the strength of the black community and affirms ethical values and racial solidarity.

      In fact, Chesnutt contributes to African-American perspective to three prominent genres of late nineteenth century social purpose fiction in these three works: the novel of miscegenation and passing, romance of history and politics, and muckraking novel written to expose the plight of the deprived. But all three works foiled to find the public and Chesnutt gave up writing to devote himself to what he later calk - a moderately successful professional man’. He expressed his pride that African-American literature had come far since his own days of writing. Being a major innovator, he tried his hand only in the regionalist and local color tradition but also in several other forms. It is he who showed his successors the new way of writing about the black folk culture to emerging black middle class.

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