PETER Charles W. Chesnutt had high hopes for his novel The Marrow of Tradition (1901). He thought that his retelling of the 1898 race riot and Democratic coup in Wilmington, N.C., was "by far the best thing I have done," and he noted in a letter to Booker T. Washington that he thought he "may have `arrived' with this book."1 Chesnutt's optimism extended to the political effects The Marrow of Tradition might have as well. The novel "is not a study in pessimism," he noted, "for it is the writer's belief that the forces of progress will in the end prevail, and that in time a remedy may be found for every social ill."2 However, it was not the success that Chesnutt had hoped for, and critics, most famously W. D. Howells, objected to its portrayal of race relations punctuated by violence and revolution.3 Yet we can consider the significance of Chesnutt's optimism and desire for progress in relation to Amy Kaplan's analysis of realism as an encounter with the mechanisms of social change.4 In The Marrow of Tradition this encounter takes on a decidedly historiographic dimension. The precarious hope presented by the novel's final line--"There's time enough,
American Literary Realism – University of Illinois Press
Published: Dec 10, 2016
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