Essay title: Tradition
This piece of historical fiction begins with the birth of Major Carteret’s son. Chesnutt describes the Carteret family as being the picture of southern aristocracy. Like many plantation families, the Carteret family had been financial devastated by the Civil War. The Major now lived in his wife’s family home and began his endeavor as owner and editor of the “Morning Chronicle.” Now that he had someone to carry on his family name, his view of the future and his goals where to create a better future for his son, and he believed it was through white supremacy that this was possible.
Major Carteret uses his position to promote his agenda. It is in the character of Major Carteret that the author demonstrates how the media was misused to publish propaganda that would give rise to hate and violence against the Negro community. One example of this theme is found when the Major, Captain Mebane, and General Belmont discuss the reprinting of an article first published in a Negro paper about lynch laws (85). Knowing that in the Negro paper few whites would read it, they plan to reprint the article with some carefully worded commentary with the intention of invoking emotions that would enrage the white population.
They would plan this around Election Day causing many black men to not exorcise their right to vote for fear of violence; thus changing the outcome of the election. Another example following the theme of the power of the press to provoke the masses concerns the murder of Polly Ochiltree, a white woman and Olivia’s aunt. As soon as the news of her death was known, the three conspiring southerners, Major Carteret, General Belmont, and Captain McBane met to plan the demise of the accused that if not entirely guilty, was deserving of death because Sandy was a black man. These men convicted him based on circumstantial evidence and race (181). After their conference, Major Carteret put to press Sandy’s death warrant in the form of an extra addition that convicted him without due process of the law. It would later come out that the true murder was not even a black man, but the grandson of a white aristocrat whose debauched behavior had let him to commit murder.
But because he was from a respectable family, his guilt was swept under the rug. Another theme evident in Chesnutt’s novel concerns the class system religiously adhered to in the post-Civil War south. As the plot develops, it becomes evident that each of the major characters is contrasted with a counterpart, clearly showing which class each belonged to. An example can be found when comparing Major Carteret and Captain McBane.Major Carteret boasts a proud heritage of original plantation owners in the state. Pryor to the war, his family was quite wealthy.
Despite his lack of financial resources, his name alone earns him respect in the community. He is well educated and carries himself in a dignified manner. Conversely, Captain McBane is the son of an overseer. He was representative of the lower class whites who took advantage of opportunities involving questionable politics that earned them considerable money. Having attained considerable wealth, he expected to become one of the elite.
He dressed the part of the aristocracy, but he lacked the necessary social graces to be considered acceptable in good company. Both men tolerated each others company, but both disliked each other. Their common interest was all about the political agenda of the white supremacy movement.
Another clear contrast is seen between Dr. Miller, a black physician, and Josh Green, a.