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The Marrow of Tradition

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,707 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932) was an author, essayist and political activist whose works addressed the complex issues of racial and social identity at the turn of the century. Chesnutt's early works explored political issues somewhat indirectly, with the intention of changing the attitudes of Caucasians slowly and carefully. However, The Marrow of Tradition marked a turn ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published February 1st 1993 by Penguin Classics (first published 1901)
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Community Reviews

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Sarah Weathersby
Things they didn't teach you in American History

I consider myself fortunate to have gone to segregated schools in the Jim Crow South of the 1950's,thanks to teachers who taught us many of the things that were missing from the approved text books. The text books in the Virginia schools would have us believe that "slaves were happy and they sang a lot." And for 200 years of American History, we were missing.

When my late husband and I returned to the South in 1975 and settled in Raleigh, NC, many c
4.5 stars

A heartrending book about the race riots that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. Charles Chesnutt tackles the issue of white supremacy by focusing on two families - one white and one black - and how their lives intersect. Upon The Marrow of Tradition's initial publication, Chesnutt intended for it to clarify the misconceptions of those in the North, though the book addresses several themes still pertinent to race relations today.

Chesnutt excels at examining how tradition
Many critics consider Charles Chesnut to be the most influential African American fiction writer during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His realist fiction work The Marrow of Tradition based on a historical account of race riots that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 has been on my kindle for a while. I had been hesitant to take it on, because I thought such a subject matter would be depressing, but the classics challenge gave me the proper motivation to stop pr ...more
The Marrow of Tradition is, as William Dean Howells famously declared, a bitter, bitter novel. But like any black moral American alive at the time when white supremacy (which we could euphemistically refer to as "Jim Crow") withheld from former slaves and their descendants the liberties supposedly assured them in Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Charles W. Chesnutt had good reason to voice bitterness. Sure, at times the novel is a bit heavy-handed in its depiction of cross-racial relations i ...more
Feb 03, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“We are all puppets in the hands of Fate, and seldom see the strings that move us."

The Marrow of Tradition is incredible. I loved it so much that I stayed home from school for the first half of the day just to finish it. I think I enjoyed this book so much because it reminded me of A Tale of Two Cities in the way the plot unfolded. It involved a complicated web of characters and subplots, but as the story evolved, all the characters intertwined and came together. Any author who writes a story wi
Jan 23, 2015 Wanda marked it as to-read
23 JAN 2015 -- Many Thanks to Laura. She provided the link to this book at Project Gutenberg. Find it here

May 16, 2013 spoko rated it it was amazing
Shelves: race, history, fiction
Chesnutt was America's first successful black novelist. This book was written in 1901, and is based on an actual race riot that broke out in North Carolina a few years earlier. It's not nonfiction; it's a dramatization based on events leading up to and during the riot.

Really good book. Chesnutt's style is perfect for his theme—it reminds me a lot of Baldwin, in that sense. Stark, straightforward realism is a sharp tool for opening up and exposing racism in society. What Chesnutt does here, prima
Nov 05, 2009 Babydoll rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most profound books that I have ever read! I obtained this book for a dollar at the 2009 Harlem Book Fair, due to it being a classic within African American literature. A young man was selling used books, and I discovered this treasured classic at the bottom of a box of books. I decided to finally read it, and have no regrets upon doing so. This classic novel teaches one about the evils and negative affects of pure hatred through racism. It also emphasizes the notion of 'You r ...more
Aug 11, 2010 Jessica rated it really liked it
Yes, it is at times overwrought, but I was nonetheless astounded by this book, so I almost gave it five stars anyway. Chesnutt is incredibly astute, and many of his observations are, sadly, still rather applicable today, well over 100 years later, for example:

"The nation was rushing forward with giant strides toward colossal wealth and world-dominion, before the exigencies of which mere abstract ethical theories must not be permitted to stand. . . . An obscure jealousy of the negro's progress, a
Staci Miller
This books starts out as a fairly common Southern story set post Civil War/Reconstruction. Many wealthy families have lost everything at the close of slavery and the patriarchs of those families go through any means possible to return their families to the previous glory. There ia also a love triangle between a rich young woman, the man who wants her money, and the noble man who loves her. This was Chesnutt's appeal to white audiences so he could tell the story he wanted to tell.

By the end, this
Sep 03, 2014 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
When considering novels of the early 20th century, The Marrow of Tradition is often overlooked, while in fact it is one of the best novels of that time period that I've ever read. The books contemplate the social standing of whites as blacks begin to progress - find jobs, take positions in office, and make a name for themselves. The end of the book results in a climaxing riot and a moment of desperation as Olivia Carteret, a white woman with pride, begs at the feet of the only doctor left in tow ...more
Larry Bassett
Feb 10, 2015 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, audio, kindle
there's time enough but none to spare!

This book was written at the beginning of the 20th century and ends with the hope that "there's time enough but none to spare" in our struggle with racism. This impressive book will give you perspective and pause in thinking about race relations in the United States. The story builds to a well-written crescendo that seemed to ask for forgiveness for the unforgivable. Can we overcome atrocities and hatred to come together?
Rachel M.
Nov 01, 2011 Rachel M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading this novel! The plot is riveting, and even though some of the dialect is hard to get through, it is still readable. Because this novel is set during the time when the Jim Crow South existed, many parts of the story are painful to read, including the notions of racial superiority, hate crimes, and prejudice. However, this novel does a great job of really exposing what it was like to be African-American during this time period. In fact, it presents this so well, that I wou ...more
Feb 17, 2010 Lief rated it liked it
An interesting book set in the time of American history about a generation after the Emancipation. This book brings out a lot of racial issues dealing with the time period (and perhaps, to some extent, still existing today). Where I think it falls short of a higher review for me is that the book seems to be a series of small plots with an overarching idea (racism) rather than a singular plot with some side steps here and there. My largest dissatisfaction is the fact that most of these small plot ...more
Erin Cotter
Jul 27, 2015 Erin Cotter rated it really liked it
Shelves: field-exam
Chesnutt lays down some truth bombs about race relations at the turn of the twentieth century more poignantly than some of his contemporaries.
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.
Carol Singleton
Jun 07, 2014 Carol Singleton rated it really liked it
Everyone should read this book to understand the origins and abuses of racism in U.S. history.
Nov 14, 2012 Rana rated it really liked it
I'll admit, I wasn't looking forward to this novel when it was assigned in my English class. I thought it would just be another novel about racism and slavery, with nothing new. But I was absolutely wrong!

The novel starts out a little slow, but then the characters and the plot get incredibly interesting and engaging. I also became infuriated at parts, which is always a good sign from a novel.

Chesnutt did a great job making the novel realistic with a good analysis of the consequences of racism on
Janet Hartman
Jan 13, 2016 Janet Hartman rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who enjoy historical novels and exploring the sources and possible consequences of prejudice.
Recommended to Janet by: I read this as part of a Let's Talk About It series sponsored by my local library and the NC Humanities Council
The book is set in the time after the Civil War when some Southern whites fight back against the freedoms given to blacks. A trio of influential white men influence public opinion in their town and elsewhere, attempting to create a movement that will put blacks "in their place" and teach them how to behave. There is one elderly white aristocrat in the town who does not share their views.
Published in 1901 and written by a black author, my main criticism is the extreme dialect used for most of th
Apr 18, 2015 Humphrey rated it it was amazing
An incredible novel. Chesnutt writes always referentially, calling to mind the parallels of past and present, slavery and servitude, and the undeniable bonds of kinship. Ironies and hypocrisies are not allowed to pass unnoted, as Chesnutt periodically and unexpectedly shifts out of a comfortable, "plain" realist style into sharp, direct address. He belongs with the elites of fiction in his ability to construct a set piece or stage a haunting image. And yet the novel remains hopeful, somehow, tho ...more
Oct 23, 2015 Jared rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and revealing depiction of the 1898 Wilmington race riot (or massacre) where a North Carolina town's mostly black population was killed and frightened off by white supremacists to an extent that the city has not recovered over a century later. Major Carteret revealed what to me was a completely irrational white supremacist stand, Lee Ellis showed the complicity of well intentioned but weak willed onlookers, Tom Delamere proved the capacity for race based cruelty and criminality, S ...more
Caitlin Rice
Sep 13, 2012 Caitlin Rice rated it really liked it
Takes a while to get into, but it seems to me one of the most realistic portrayals of the post-reconstruction south and the race riots. Chestnutt explores every angle of the buildup to the riot, and analyzes it thoroughly through amazingly crafted characters.
Oct 04, 2015 Vernin rated it really liked it
This was a nice read. At first, I thought that the author was going to remain in slave dialect and that worried me but he only used it when appropriate and it was effective in covering the story. Chestnut writes in long arcs with flowing sentences littered with an artistry that you rarely find in current fiction. The books has some great quotable decryption a of benign racists and racism. There are many parts of this book that evoke the early 2000s and 2010s as much as they do the era of the nov ...more
Apr 22, 2015 Erika rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dissertation
Will be incredibly useful to my dissertation project
Apr 19, 2016 Tim rated it really liked it
The Marrow of Tradition is a powerful novel. Chesnutt's grasp, mastery, even dominance of the English language at the turn of the 20th century is mind-blowing. The narrative is littered with a huge cast of characters and the benefit of this is that it steers the reader away from what are, in retrospect, mostly predictable plot points. Unless you commit a serious effort to this book, you'll find that the characters' names and minor story lines are easy to tangle up. Regardless, you'll find yourse ...more
Leigh Thomas
Dec 12, 2015 Leigh Thomas added it
Shelves: 2015
Charles W. Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition reimagines a fictional account based on the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898. Here, the town is Wellington, and its characters bring a dynamic and personal glimpse into this moment in history. The white Carteret family and the mixed-race Miller family are inexorably linked by a hidden marriage and unacknowledged half-sisterhood. Major Carteret runs the Morning Chronicle newspaper, and he and his right-hand men are set in supremacist mindsets and schemes to ...more
Mistinguette Smith
Oct 31, 2011 Mistinguette Smith rated it it was amazing
This backbone of the African-American literary canon should simply be considered a 20th century American classic, for we cannot ever understand who we are as Americans without this tale.The Marrow of Tradition Chesnutt's thinly fictionalized account of the 1898 Wilmington (NC) Race Riot tells an under-recounted tale about how southern (and western) whites amassed rural wealth in the Gilded Age through lynching blacks and seizing or destroying their property, communities, wealth and institutions. ...more
Eric Heff
Sep 08, 2012 Eric Heff rated it liked it
Chesnutt does a very good job of creating the anti-Gone with the Wind. In this book, he shows a Carolina town as dirty and mean as it really was. The book is based off the real life riot that was started by white men who wanted to get rid of elected officials solely because they were black. This is not a story about happy endings but Chesnutt leaves us with the hope that some of the men who caused this chaos have learned from their evil, but really we do not know. This is not a book that claims ...more
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Dylan Lien
Mar 13, 2016 Dylan Lien rated it really liked it
The latest work of Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition, is a powerful book. It is the strongest and most absorbing story of Southern life. In the Marrow of Tradition we find every part of Southern life illustrated with such rare loyalty that at last appears the cultured African-American life. Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born June 20, 1858 to Andrew Jackson Chesnutt and Anna Maria Sampson, free African Americans living in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1866 the Chesnutt family returned to Faye ...more
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Charles Waddell Chesnutt was an author, essayist and political activist, best known for his novels and short stories exploring complex issues of racial and social identity.
More about Charles W. Chesnutt...

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