“The Passing of Grandison” is told in the third person and primarily limited to the consciousness of Dick Owens, the cynical and lazy young heir to a large plantation in Kentucky. His desire to win the hand of his sweetheart Charity Lomax leads him on a mission to accomplish something of humanitarian import. Given his character and the contradictions of the South, however, his efforts can have only an ironic result.
Set in the early 1850’s just after the passage of the federal Fugitive Slave Law, the story begins with the highly publicized trial and subsequent martyr’s death of an abolitionist who tried to help the slave of Tom Briggs, an abusive master and neighbor of the Owens and Lomax families. Charity wishes that her handsome but worthless beau would do something equally worthy. This leads Dick to vow to induce one of his father’s slaves to run away.
Dick chooses to accomplish his task by going on a trip to the North accompanied by a personal body servant. At first, he selects a slave who he knows will want to run away at the first opportunity. The plan is complicated by Colonel Owens, who insists that he go with Grandison. The colonel believes that Grandison is loyal and abolitionist-proof, that is, immune from those who would entice him to run away. Indeed, the colonel quizzes Grandison, who assures his master that he accepts his subordination, is contemptuous of free blacks, and fears abolitionists. As an added inducement,...
(The entire section is 510 words.)