I’m trying to learn for my History class and I’m stuck. Can you help?
At the end of the 19th century, the racial tensions between African Americans that were recently freed from slavery and southern European Americans were very high. A large portion of southern European Americans resented the newfound freedom and confidence of African Americans and wanted to maintain the old traditions of the south; where African Americans were subservient and inferior to the white race. Through the novel, “The Marrow of Tradition” by Charles w. Chestnut readers can obtain a deeper understanding of the race relations between African Americans and southern white Americans. Throughout the novel, we can see the constantly changing relationship between African Americans and southern European Americans. Through characters such as Josh Green and Dr. William Miller, two prominent African Americans that play crucial roles in the story, we can see how they symbolize the newfound pride, confidence, and success within the African Americans community. However, in juxtaposition characters such as Major Cartaret and Captain Mcbane, two prominent European Americans in the novel, we can see how they symbolize the old racist traditions and hatred of the white south. Through the analysis of these characters and what they symbolize, Chestnutt allows us to understand the relationship between African Americans and southern European Americans in a richer way. One character that symbolizes a very important concept in the story would have to be Dodie Cartaret. Dodie Cartaret is the newborn son of Major Cartaret and his wife Olivia Cartaret. In the novel “The Marrow of Tradition” Dodie Cartaret is a symbol for the new generation of southern European Americans; that will live in a life where they are accustomed to African Americans being free individuals in their everyday life. As a symbol of this new generation of European Americans Chestnutt uses the misfortune that Dodie goes through throughout the novel show the evolving relationship between African Americans and European Americans Through the few scenes that Dodie Cartaret is present in the novel, we can examine the allegory between the relationship between the evolving relationship between African-Americans and southern European-Americans.
Through the first scenes that we see of Dodie Cartaret, we can see that from the time of his birth; he already has an almost supernatural connection with African Americans. We are introduced to this connection through the character Aunt Jane. Aunt Jane has been a servant of the Carteret household for many years and has served Olivia and her mother in the past. After Dodie was born she noticed a very alarming mark on Dodie’s body. “She had discovered, under its left ear, a small, which led to her fear that that the child was born for bad luck. Had the baby been black, or yellow, or poor-white, Jane would unhesitatingly have named, as his ultimate fate….should die by judicial strangulation” (Chestnut 10). As we see from the very beginning of the novel that Dodie seemed to be connected to African Americans or minorities in some tragic way. Then subsequently every time Dodie was present in the novel he was a victim of bad luck, and not only that an African American was always involved in the circumstances surrounding the misfortune of Dodie. Through f Dodie’s misfortune, we can see how Chestnutt uses his representation as a symbol to show that the lives of African Americans and European Americans are forever intertwined in a unique way that can not be changed.
There were a few instances where Dodie’s misfortune shown that he was a symbol between the forever changing relationship between African and European Americans. One key instance would have to be when Dodie was going to succumb to asphyxiation due to him having a piece of a toy in his throat. To save his son’s life, he got the help of Dr. Burns, a specialist surgeon from Philadelphia, and all of the best doctors in town. However, a problem aroused just before the operation was about to begin. This problem was that Dr.Burns requested the help of Dr. Miller, an African American doctor who is also the brother-in-law of Major Cartaret, in the upcoming surgery. Major Cartaret did not want the help of Dr.Miller on the operations of his son even if he would have been helped because Dr. Miller was African American. “…In the south, we do not call negro doctors to attend white patients. I could not permit a negro to enter my house upon such an errand.” (Chestnutt 71). Major Cartaret is so intent on upholding the traditions of the old south that he would refuse the help of a person that can potentially help his son survive the operation. However, Dr. Burns, in the beginning, did not stand for this and fought for his right to have Dr.Miller present during the upcoming operation on Dodie. “…I have invited this gentleman here. My professional honor is involved, and I merely invoke my rights to maintain it. It is a matter of principle, which ought not to give way to mere prejudice.” (Chestnutt 71). Dr. Burns believes that bein a gentleman comes first and foremost, and being a white man comes second. This shows that the times have changed since the times since African Americans were once enslaved, and could have never dreamed of a European American ever uttering this statement. This situation surrounding Dodie’s operation show’s that Chestnutt used Dodie’s misfortune to show the changing relationship between African and European Americans.
Another key instance where Dodie’s misfortune was used as a way to showcase the evolving relationship between African and European American’s is towards the end of the novel. When Dodie falls sick during the race riot of the town, which was caused largely due to Major Cartaret’s influence with his newspaper editorial, Major and Olivia Cartaret frantically look for any hope that there’s a way for their son’s life to be saved. However, it is discovered that the only doctor that can help save Dodie’s life is Dr. Miller. Dr. Miller begs for his help, but Miller refuses due to his only child being shot and killed by the race riot that Major Cartaret had a large part in causing. Major Cartaret realizes that the reason for the race riot and the reason for Dodie’s impending death would be his fault if he were to die“Even his great sorrow because of secondary importance beside the grief which his wife must soon feel at the inevitable loss of her only child. And it was all his fault!” (Chestnut 322). Major Cartaret realizes because of his ignorance and racism that his child might die. This event also shows that Maor Cartaret, a European American, needed the help of Dr. Miller, an African-American, and begged for it. This further shows that Chestnutt uses Dodie’s misfortune to show that the relationship between African and European American’s has forever changed and evolved.
Chestnutt uses Doddie’s misfortune as a way to showcase the ever-changing relationship between African and European Americans. Through the use of Dodie’s misfortune, he showed that some European Americans are fine with having African Americans as equals in the workplace. Through the use of Dodie’s misfortune, he shows how even a bigot such as Major Cartaret needs Dr.Miller and begs for his help in order to save his son’s life despite his skin color. Chestnutt’s use of Dr.Miller’s misfortune was an excellent way to show that the relationship between African and European Americans can not go back to how it was in the old south. African and European Americans are now both so intermingled in society the only way to go is forward.
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