Chapter

<i>Masks</i> Theatricals in Black

Julia A. Stern

in Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780226773285
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226773315 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226773315.003.0007
Masks Theatricals in Black

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Mary Chesnut explored the politically strategic dissimulation of slaves in the elite homes of herself and her peers; and she took up the tonic distraction of recreational drama put on by members of her white planter circle, calculated to elevate the sagging spirits of the Confederate generals and their officers and ladies posted in Richmond. By juxtaposing what might be called theatricals in black and theatricals in white, this chapter attempts to gain access to dimensions of slave consciousness and planter anxiety obscured at the manifest level of Chesnut's 1880s narrative. The writer was acutely aware of the various theaters bisecting Southern political life: the home front versus the battlefield, the political arena versus the domestic realm, the world of elite white privilege versus that of slave servility. These domains not only overlapped but actually changed places before Chesnut's eyes during the Civil War years. Later in her 1880s book, Chesnut wrote about how Southern cities largely inhabited by women, children, the elderly, and remaining slave populations were invaded by Sherman's western armies.

Keywords: Mary Chesnut; recreational drama; slaves; narrative; political life; Civil War

Chapter.  10729 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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