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Charles W. Chesnutt (1858—1932)


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Uncle Julius McAdoo

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An aged former slave, Uncle Julius McAdoo serves as the folk narrator in the stories of Charles Waddell Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman (1889). He connects the frame stories told by his employer, a white midwestern businessman transplanted to the South, with the lives of slaves in eastern North Carolina and the conjuring activities of Aun' Peggy. To a marked degree, Uncle Julius resembles the nineteenth-century stereotype of the loyal family servant found in the nostalgic postbellum fiction of such white writers as Thomas Nelson Page and Joel Chandler Harris, the creator of Uncle Remus. Strongly superstitious, Uncle Julius seems naive and simple, but his remarkable narration reveals that he is imaginative, perceptive, and shrewd. He often uses storytelling as a means to advance his own interests, sometimes at the expense of the white businessman narrator. Julius's stories range widely in mood and effect, from the comic to the tragic. Unlike the “uncles” of Page and Harris, Julius never grows nostalgic for the “good ol' days” before emancipation. Instead his stories emphasize the threats slavery presented to ordinary black people caught in its grip and their ingenuity in resisting slavery's dehumanization. Uncle Julius McAdoo represents one of the earliest adaptations of the slave trickster to literary purposes in the African American tradition.

Lucinda MacKethan, “Charles Chesnutt's Southern World: Portraits of a Bad Dream,” in The Dream of Arcady, 1980, pp. 86–104.William L. Andrews, introduction to The Collected Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt, 1992.

Paula Gallant Eckard

Subjects: Literature

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