By Charles Duncan
Following the hugely autobiographical nonfiction produced by way of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and different slave narrative writers, Chesnutt's advanced, multi-layered brief fiction reworked 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 well-liked 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 will be traced to his extraordinary narrative subtlety. Profoundly conscious of the delicacy of his scenario as a black highbrow on the flip of the century, Chesnutt infused his paintings with an complex, enigmatic inventive 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 examine of the leading edge brief fiction, Duncan devotes specific consciousness to elucidating those subtle narrative suggestions because the grounding for Chesnutt's inauguration of a practice of African-American fiction.
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Additional info for Absent Man: Narrative Craft Of Charles W. Chestnutt
And, becauseour life in the West has been one political struggle after another,our literature has been defined from without, and rather often from within, as primarilyjust one more polemic in those struggles. (5) The result of this “curious valorization of the social and polemical functions of black literature,” Gates justifiably laments, is that the black text is treated “as if it were invisible, or literal, or a one-dimensional document” (5-6). Gates’s perceptive analysis of the way black literature is read provides a useful framework for understanding why Chesnutt (although notspecifically the subject of Gates’sdiscussion) continues to be a misunderstood figure.
It is that very “irresolution” of his own sensibilities (or intentions or“anxieties”) which ultimately makes Chesnutt such an enigmatic figure. While he grappled in his fiction with questions of personal and social identity, of the relationship between textual constructs and the culture that both begot and resulted from them, readers have tended to agree with Richard Watson Gilder, the editor of Century, who in an 1890 letter to George Washington Cable described Chesnutt’s work as “amorphous-not so much in construction as in Sentimend’ (qtd.
In its early public role,” Petesch suggests, black literature attempted “to report on theconditions of black life to a hypothetically decent, Christian, democratic audience in the expectation that oncethat audience was made aware of the gap between democratic, Christian ideals and daily, mundane practice, change would occur” (8). Change, of course, did occur, and in dramatic fashion: the Civil War obliterated the systemalthough not all of the underlying causes for, nor the residual consequences of, that system-that had assigned many African Americans their identity.