Aun' Peggy

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Charles W. Chesnutt (1858—1932)

Gloria Naylor (b. 1950)


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A powerful conjure woman whose magic and spells lie at the heart of Uncle Julius McAdoo's tales in The Conjure Woman (1899) by Charles Waddell Chesnutt. Aun’ Peggy's abilities, deeply rooted in African American folk knowledge and traditions, add mystery, strength, and purpose to Uncle Julius's stories. Feared and respected by white and black, Aun’ Peggy lives as a free woman outside of Patesville (Fayetteville, N.C.). She is a shrewd, independent businesswoman who insists on payment for her services. Working with roots, snakeskins, and “yuther conjuh-fixins,” she gives people rheumatism and fits, causes them to waste away, and turns them into animals. Only Uncle Jube (in “The Gray Wolf's Ha’nt”) is a more powerful conjurer. Aun’ Peggy's spells or “goophers” are used for a variety of purposes, often to resist white control. In “Sis’ Becky's Pickaninny” she reunites a slave mother and child by turning the child into a bird. In “Mars Jeems's Nightmare” she turns a cruel plantation owner into a slave so that he might experience firsthand the difficult lives his slaves lead. Some of Aun’ Peggy's conjuring is not for the benefit of the African American community. In “The Goophered Grapevine” she casts a deadly spell for Mars Dugal to keep slaves away from his scuppernongs. Thus, Aun’ Peggy is a complex character whose power and presence are pivotal in The Conjure Woman. She also serves as a literary foremother to such modern-day conjure women as those depicted in Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988).

Sylvia Render, introduction to The Short Fiction of Charles W. Chesnutt, 1974.William L. Andrews, The Literary Career of Charles Chesnutt, 1980.

Paula Gallant Eckard

Subjects: Literature.

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