Date of Award


Degree Type




First Advisor

Karem, Frederick

Subject Headings

Chesnutt, Charles W (Charles Waddell), 1858-1932 -- Criticism and interpretation, Harlem Renaissance, Race relations in literature, Charles Chesnutt, Harlem renaissance, Racial relations in literature


Charles Chesnutt began his career with an ideology that race should not be a category in which to judge others. He felt that through literature he could help influence society and help create a less racial centric civilization. His career began with positive reviews from short story publications in multiple magazines. However, most critics and readers at the time did not know of Chesnutt's racial background. It was not until his second collection of short stories that Chesnutt revealed the truth about his heritage. After his success with The Conjure Woman and The Wife of His Youth (both published in 1899), Chesnutt began to assert his political agenda more aggressively into his writing. His second novel The Marrow of Tradition (1901) received very poor reviews critics were repulsed by Chesnutt's revolutionary philosophies concerning the racial caste system. The poor reception of Chesnutt's three novels forced him to retire from a literary career. Years later, during the Harlem Renaissance, a time of prolific African American writers, Chesnutt was disappointed in the baseness of black characters in literature. He scolded Harlem Renaissance writers for their lack of strong black characters, but Chesnutt's short stories that were published in The Crisis also lacked the racial uplift that he so desperately sought. Chesnutt's intensity of racial relation literature had dwindled over time and he left it to the next generation of writers to fulfill the social agenda that his literature was never able to achieve