Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Marrow of Tradition” as Want to Read:
The Marrow of Tradition
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Marrow of Tradition

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,942 Ratings  ·  123 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Marrow of Tradition, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Marrow of Tradition

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
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
Apr 07, 2013 Kim rated it liked it
The Marrow of Tradition, originally published in 1901, is a historical novel by African-American author Charles Chesnutt portraying a fictional account of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Before reading this I wouldn't have thought there would be so much hate by the time this "race riot" took place, but I was wrong. It was years since slavery had ended - so why is there still so much hate? I don't know, people don't seem to be able to get along now, why would I ...more
Sep 07, 2011 Dusty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2010 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 24, 2014 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 02, 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
Mar 16, 2012 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
I took on “The Marrow of Tradition” knowing only that is was one of the novels in the Library of America series and was written by a black man in the beginning of the last century. I hadn’t heard of the events this story is based on, or of this book’s own place in history. I read it for the story. I was pleasantly surprised in that the style of the writing didn’t seem as archaic as some books of the period. The writing was not as flowery, but still had some of the excessive elements that I assoc ...more
L.C. Perry
Sep 27, 2016 L.C. Perry rated it it was amazing
Amazing. Such a crucial work of art during that time period and it really opened the eyes of many. I was amazed by the complexities of his characters and his plotline, showing the different levels of racism and the different generations of black people that continued butting heads throughout the story. There were so many mixtures of opinions, moral conflict, and problems that also arose with the difference in class. What really struck me the most was the ending of the novel.

(Spoilers ahead!)

Rachel M.
Oct 23, 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 04, 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
Nov 06, 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
Larry Bassett
Feb 08, 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?
Caitlin Rice
Sep 04, 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.
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.
Jul 27, 2015 Erin 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.
Mar 07, 2015 Erika rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dissertation
Will be incredibly useful to my dissertation project
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.
Mistinguette Smith
Aug 25, 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
Janet Hartman
Dec 30, 2015 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
Leigh Thomas
Oct 09, 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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Eric Heff
Aug 15, 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
Apr 20, 2015 Dana rated it really liked it
Shelves: school-books
This book was an interesting read and another book I had to read for one of my classes. It was full of historical events that were easily pointed out. The Plessy versus Ferguson case, the Wilmington Massacre, and the obvious ties to the racial tensions in the newspapers of the South at the time. It was interesting to get the viewpoints of so many different characters in this novel. It gave a lot of insight into the minds of the people at the time this was written and throughout the period after ...more
Apr 07, 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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Clotel: or, The President's Daughter
  • Quicksand
  • Our Nig
  • George Washington Gomez: A Mexicotexan Novel
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Iola Leroy: Shadows Uplifted
  • The Rise of Silas Lapham
  • Hope Leslie: or, Early Times in the Massachusetts
  • The Rise of David Levinsky
  • A Voice from the South
  • The Blacker the Berry...
  • If Sons, Then Heirs
  • The Heroic Slave (African American Heritage Book)
  • The Garies and Their Friends
  • Celia, A Slave
  • The Best of Simple
  • Latino USA: A Cartoon History
  • The Fruit of the Tree
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...

Share This Book