Irresponsibility Of Those Most Responsible Essay

1049 words - 5 pages

One of the earliest accepted African American writers; Charles Chestnutt cleverly wrote the allegory, The Sheriff’s Children. He uses narration and diction to lay the foundation for a strong underlying theme of responsibility. Branson County’s Sheriff Campbell faces years of guilt when his illegitimate son, Tom, ends up in the county jail. Campbell sold Tom and Tom’s mother after being faced with pecuniary stress. I argue that Chestnutt uses the sheriff’s relationship with his illegitimate son, to represent the irresponsibility of the nation in dealing with slavery.
Chestnutt creates the sheriff’s internal battles by setting up a strong third person narration. This narrator is limited in the fact that he or she only knows Sheriff Campbell’s emotions and thoughts. One of the battles Campbell has to deal with his fatherly duty versus his civil duty. The narrator states, “the struggle between his love of life and sense of duty was a terrific one” (187). The sheriff knows that his son deserves to live a life and he wants to protect his son, but as a sheriff, he knows that his duty is to protect the county and the people that live there. During the era of slavery, the nation faced a similar conflict. The government could protect all citizens or do only what the majority of wealthy, white people wanted. Another battle set up by the narrator is Sheriff Campbell’s struggle with the decision to sell Tom and Tom’s mother years earlier. The narrator notes, “he had been sorry for it many a times since” (186). Not all the white people were sorry for the degradation and harm that they put African Americans through, but many were. After an irresponsible decision is made, the consequences and guilt follow for years after. The sheriff knew that he could have made several other decisions. The narrator says, “let no one ask what his answer would have been: he was spared the necessity of a decision” (187). In the moment of selling his son, he had been “yielded to the combination of anger and pecuniary stress” (186). Sheriff Campbell had three decisions: he could have sent the boy and his mother to a free state with money, he could have kept them both on plantation and kept an eye on them, or he could have sold them. At the time, he thought that the best decision was to sell them. This decision would fix his financial matter and help him avoid any public scrutiny he might face. Having personal relations with a slave during this time period was looked down upon. But Campbell had not thought of the futuristic consequences or guilt he would have to face by selling them. The government had several options in dealing with slavery. They could have put an end to slavery or allowed for slavery to continue. Whites sought the selling of African Americas to make profits. Although slavery did end in 1865, slavery had been a force for over two hundred and fifty years. And even when slavery ended, discrimination and racism did not. This is irresponsibility on...

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