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The Marrow Of Tradition Essay

1883 words - 8 pages

As the United States developed and grew, upward mobility was central to the American dream. It was the unstated promise that no matter where you started, you had the chance to grow and proceed beyond your initial starting point. In the years following the Civil War, the promise began to fade. People of all races strived to gain the representation, acknowledgement and place in this society. To their great devastation, this hope quickly dwindled. Social rules were set out by the white folk, and nobody could rise above their social standing unless they were seen fit to be part of the white race. The social group to be impacted the most by this “social rule” was the African Americans. Black folk and those who were sympathetic to the idea of equal rights to blacks were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. (Burton, 1998) The turning point in North Carolina politics was the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898. It was a very bold and outrageous statement from the white supremacists to the black folk. The Democratic white supremacists illegally seized power from the local government and destroyed the neighborhood by driving out the African Americans and turning it from a black-majority to a white-majority city. (Class Discussion 10/3/13) This event developed the idea that even though an African American could climb a ladder to becoming somebody in his or her city, he or she will never become completely autonomous in this nation. Charles W. Chesnutt discusses the issue of social mobility in his novel The Marrow of Tradition. Olivia Carteret, the wife of a white supremacist is also a half-sister to a Creole woman, Janet Miller. As the plot develops, we are able to see how the social standing of each woman impacts her everyday life, and how each woman is forced either up or down the social ladder.
In The Marrow of Tradition, Chesnutt introduces us to the double imagery of the two sisters, Olivia and Janet. This is supported by the idea that race was determined by one’s environment, that was in turn determined by the color of one’s mother. (Williams, 2006) Olivia is of a white race, with both father and mother being white. She is happy and content with a privileged white life. Janet, on the other hand, is the daughter of a black maid and a white man. When Janet’s father died, his will was taken and hidden secretly by Polly Ochiltree, Olivia’s aunt. This meant that Mrs. Polly kicked the maid Julia and her daughter Janet out of the house. As a result, Janet is pronounced black and left nameless, with no money or hope looking towards the future. Despite Olivia’s opportunity to have whatever she desires, she is still jealous of Janet in some ways. For example, seeing Janet with her son, made Olivia fall into a fit of hysterics. As Miss Jane put it, “So ter-day,w’en Mis’ Livy wuz out ridin’ an’ met dis yer Janet wid her boy, an’ w’en Mis’ Livy got ter studyin’ bout her own chances, an’ how she mought not come thoo safe, she jes’ had a fit er hysterics right dere in de...

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