Charles W. Chesnutt, Whiteness, and the Problem of Citizenship

Donald M. Shaffer

in The Construction of Whiteness

Published by University Press of Mississippi

Published in print April 2016 | ISBN: 9781496805553
Published online September 2017 | e-ISBN: 9781496805591 | DOI:
Charles W. Chesnutt, Whiteness, and the Problem of Citizenship

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In this chapter, I will examine perhaps Charles W. Chesnutt’s most celebrated color-line novel, The House Behind the Cedars, as a philosophical and legalistic engagement of the problem of citizenship. Through a reading of Chesnutt’s racial non-fiction, including several of his unpublished essays and speeches, I also want to show how the novel engages Chesnutt’s perspective on race—one that held racial difference to be at once a “social fiction” and a “social disability.” Through his portrayal of the black mulatto in this novel, Chesnutt argues for an inclusive ideal of citizenship in response to the ascriptive ideology that defined American Jim Crow society in the wake of the 1896 Plessy decision.

Keywords: The problem of citizenship; Color-line novel; Black mulatto; Jim Crow segregation; Race as social fiction

Chapter.  8684 words. 

Subjects: Race and Ethnicity

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