Charles Chesnutt

Charles Chesnutt - Charles W. Chesnutt When you think of...

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Charles W. Chesnutt When you think of early American, authors who or what do you think of? Some people might hear the voices of Whitman and Dickinson whispering into their ear with words of love for their fellow man. Others may hear the sound of cannon fire reverberating through the pages of Bierce, as he shows the atrocities of human nature. Yet others might see Chopin with all the flamboyancy of southern aristocracy, as she questions social norms. Perhaps the warm southern waters of Twain come to mind, with ideas of simpler times and simpler minds. Though all of these well known authors capture parts or aspects of early American society, few have done it in the way and from a perspective such as Chesnutt’s. Chesnutt combines all of these authors into a single embodiment of early American culture, and does this by using such simple and yet so complex verbage of American language. He manages to tailor this language and story to the very people who read his stories. Charles Chesnutt uses language to convey his message to an audience of a much different background and perspective than his own. In The Passing of Grandison, it is this language that he seems to capture the very annunciation of a southern slave. When one reads Chesnutt, they must read with as much care and detail as a fine Swiss watch maker creates his watches. Like some of his other works, his true genius lies in the fine points of his work. Look at how Grandison talks with his not so subtle accent. Every noun, verb, and adjective in his sentences seems to be more poorly pronounced than the last. With Chesnutt, the simple annunciation becomes complex. For instance, when Grandison says, “Er ef I did n’t hit ‘ em, suh,” with the very way Chesnutt spells these words, he manages to give the readers a better sensory perception of the situation going on (709). By this, he gives the readers both an aural as well as visual idea of how bad Grandison’s accent is. Chesnutt chooses not to use correct spelling and allows the mere placement of his words to
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advocate for his thought. Instead he spells the words as they sound in a blatant attempt to relate the reader to Grandison’s perspective as an under-educated slave. Such a simple phonetic use of the spelling seems to redefine and recreate the English language. Perhaps this is a bit more subtle than say the way Lewis Carroll created his own words, but it is innovative nevertheless. If this is the subtle yet obvious interpretation of the use of language on behalf of Grandison and his slave companions, then what should be inferred of his “hospitable” white counterparts? Chesnutt endeavors to show the educated, genteel, southern plantation owner as the complete opposite of Grandison on nearly every level. Dick Owens was semi-educated in law (705). Even the
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This note was uploaded on 03/08/2012 for the course ENGL 3366 taught by Professor Greenspan during the Spring '11 term at SMU.

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Charles Chesnutt - Charles W. Chesnutt When you think of...

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