Compare the characters of Old Harjo in "The Problem of Old Harjo" and Uncle Julius "Goophered Grapevine" in regard to how they were powerless.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The character of Old Harjo in John Milton Oskison's short story "The Problem of Old Harjo" is a Creek Indian who has been convinced by a missionary woman, Miss Evans, to convert to Christianity (Oskison himself is a Cherokee). Old Harjo has two wives. Interpretation of Scripture since around the twelfth century prohibits christian men from having more than wife. Old Harjo faces the dilemma of knowing how to blend his new beliefs with his old life. He also faces the problem of deciding what authority he sill recognize and embrace: his ancestral and cultural authority or his new religious authority, an authority presented to him in the form of Mrs. Rowell, who is the Director of the Indian Mission. These dilemmas make Old Harjo feel powerless as he is psychologically and practically forced from both sides of the dilemma: If he wants to embrace the new faith Miss Evans has taught him, he has no choice--according to the authority of Mrs. Rowell.

The character of Uncle Julius McAdoo in Charles Waddell Chestnutt's short story "Goophered Grapevine" is a former slave of advanced age living in the South and functions in the story structure as the narrator of the interior framed tale. His narration bridges the life of the Northerner of the frame who is interested in buying the plantation with the conjurer of the past. We learn from his story that, as his surname is McAdoo, he is the son of the previous plantation owner, "Mars Dugal' McAdoo" and he was a slave to his father on his father's plantation. His tale about the "goophered" plantation reveals the evil that was visited upon slaves by their masters as when Uncle Julius tells that Mars Dugal set up "guns en steel traps" in order to catch the slaves he suspected of eating from his harvest of grapes. Uncle Julius's tale also demonstrates how, following emancipation, former slaves had the liberty to turn, or attempt to events, to their advantage: As the Northern says when the frame returns following Uncle Julius's narrative, "[Our] respectable revenue from the neglected grapevines. ... doubtless, accounted for his advice to me not to buy the vineyard, though whether it inspired the goopher story I am unable to state."

In the end result, while Uncle Juluius experienced powerlessness as a slave (although, as he says of the slaves behavor,"en de grapes kep' on a-goin des de same"), as an emancipated former slave, he found he had some power to direct his destiny as proven by his situation on the Northerner's new plantation: "I believe, however, that the wages I pay him for his services are more than an equivalent for anything he lost by the sale of the vineyard." This contrasts with Old Harjo's situation in which power over directing his preferred and desired destiny never entered his hands: He was forced to bow to one external force or the other. There is a common element in their powerlessness in that Old Harjo and Uncle Julius were each powerless against the dictates of the white culture surrounding them.

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The Goophered Grapevine

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