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The Marrow of Tradition

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  1,335 ratings  ·  89 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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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
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
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

“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
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
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
Larry Bassett
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.
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
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
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.
Carol Singleton
Everyone should read this book to understand the origins and abuses of racism in U.S. history.
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
Caitlin Rice
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.
Mistinguette Smith
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
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
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
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Having grown up in a small eastern town in NC located just a few miles from Wilmington, NC, I had long ago heard of the horrific Wilmington riots. However, my knowledge of the riots was limited. I jumped at the chance to read this fictional portrayal by Charles W. Chestnutt when it was a book selection for one of my Goodreads groups. I think that Chesnutt does a good job at capturing the thoughts and feelings of both African-Americans and white Americans at the time of the riots. it is dishearte ...more
Austen to Zafón
This was a difficult book to read because it is such an honest depiction of racial inequality during the reconstruction of the south after the civil war. But I think it was my favorite among the books I've read by Chesnutt, for that very honesty.
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
This title was assigned reading for one of my classes this semester. When I first picked it up I was terribly bored. The characters were not appealing to me and it was just to slow of a start-so much so that I didn't finish reading it for my class.
As the summer started, I needed somethings to read and I decided to give the book a second chance- I'm really glad I did. It turned out to be a very juicy read. As the central conflict of the historical fiction became more physical, and a race riot en
A novel based on, and climaxing with, the Wilmington race riot. A note about the edition: I actually read the Nook ebook version, but could not find that edition available.
"Depressing" might be the right word for this book. It covers the race riots in a small town in Virginia in the late nineteenth century, and there is little more aggravating to me than close-minded idiots. This book was very difficult to read, especially in the first half when it seemed that the narrator was in full agreement with the great white conspiracy.

Though based on a true story, it does at least end traditionally well: some people die who deserve to, some die who perhaps don't deserve it
A little rickety throughout like a Howells or second-order Twain novel but the ending is incredible.
Surprisingly, I liked this book much more than I thought I would. Chesnutt's writing is poetic, and even the moments when he's preaching to his audience are still well-written and feel Truthful.

A very good story; the writing was light and breezy--i.e. easy to follow and Chesnutt is a very good storyteller--but the story was deep, and I often found myself (especially in the last 1/3 of the book) gasping out loud, or exclaiming "That's not fair!" Generally I don't like preachy books, but this is
I read this book during my junior year of college as part of an early American literature course. Most people in the class found the book to be boring and dated, but for some reason this was a "pot boiler" for me. It's a weird mystery novel that deals with questions of identity and race that are common for the time period. For whatever reason, I flew through this book. Reading it in the context of a literature class might make more sense than picking it up and heading off to the beach, but this ...more
The style and dialects used in the dialogue both take getting used to, but the overall story is remarkable.
The characters are a bit flat, but otherwise it's really good, and quite powerful! I liked how it was Janet, and not Will, who ultimately got to make the decision.
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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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