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Rising Above the Issues

            In Charles Chesnutt's novel The Marrow of Tradition, there is an overall theme of racism and how it affected both whites and blacks during the Reconstruction period, particularly in the South. Chesnutt brings to life an array of characters that accurately portray contrasting views on the issue of race throughout the novel. Although the issue of race gives the characters ample conflict, they are also presented with issues of class, gender and morality. In the context that Chesnutt has written the novel, gender and class do not seem to be the dominant issues. However, each character can be evaluated and measured reasonably by their morality and how it affects each of them individually, and as a group. To this extent, many literary critics have compared Josh "the dark-skinned, lower class, African-American who avenges his father's murder "to Dr. Miller, the light-skinned, educated, African-American who seems to have become somewhat accepted by the whites in Wilmington. They have both been deemed the "hero- in the story because of their attitudes and actions, but morally neither Josh nor Dr. Miller compares to the moral adeptness of the mulatto character of Janet. .
             On the surface, Josh is one of the only characters that seems to act of his own free will, ignoring the attitudes and beliefs of those around him, and giving the appearance of being free from the restraints of the racial inequality that surround the African-Americans in the story. He is not subservient to the whites and spends most of his time and effort plotting revenge on Captain McBane for the cold-blooded murder of Josh's father. Even after the riot breaks out, Josh calls to his followers "Dese gentlemen may have somethin' ter live fer; but ez for my pa't, I'd ruther be a dead nigger any day dan a live dog!- (Chesnutt, Marrow 219). With this statement, Josh reveals anger and disgust at the way African-Americans are being treated by the whites.

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