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Charles W. Chesnutt, Whiteness, and the Problem of Citizenship

Charles W. Chesnutt, Whiteness, and the Problem of Citizenship

Chapter:
(p.129) 5 Charles W. Chesnutt, Whiteness, and the Problem of Citizenship
Source:
The Construction of Whiteness
Author(s):
Donald M. Shaffer
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
DOI:10.14325/mississippi/9781496805553.003.0006

In this chapter, I will examine perhaps Charles W. Chesnutt’s most celebrated color-line novel, The House Behind the Cedars, as a philosophical and legalistic engagement of the problem of citizenship. Through a reading of Chesnutt’s racial non-fiction, including several of his unpublished essays and speeches, I also want to show how the novel engages Chesnutt’s perspective on race—one that held racial difference to be at once a “social fiction” and a “social disability.” Through his portrayal of the black mulatto in this novel, Chesnutt argues for an inclusive ideal of citizenship in response to the ascriptive ideology that defined American Jim Crow society in the wake of the 1896 Plessy decision.

Keywords:   The problem of citizenship, Color-line novel, Black mulatto, Jim Crow segregation, Race as social fiction

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