The Marrow of Tradition

by Charles Waddell Chesnutt
Start Free Trial

Compare Dr. Miller and Josh Greens to each other in The Marrow of Tradition. What do we get when we compare the moral standing and the moral compromises of these two characters? Include in your answer how these characters convey the writer’s theme or message.  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In C. W. Chesnutt’s novel, Dr. William Miller and Josh Green are members of two different generations who represent different perspectives on the significance of race in American society. The novel takes place several decades after Emancipation, an era when the Southern states had enacted the restrictive, discriminatory Jim Crow...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In C. W. Chesnutt’s novel, Dr. William Miller and Josh Green are members of two different generations who represent different perspectives on the significance of race in American society. The novel takes place several decades after Emancipation, an era when the Southern states had enacted the restrictive, discriminatory Jim Crow laws. The two men respectively stand for the more conservative and more radical views of African American identity and activism in the late nineteenth century.

Miller has built a medical career and achieved success through traveling in the right circles. His professional and social connections are to white society, gained largely through his wife; while both are African American, she has one white parent, and her light skin gives her greater access to white society. Although he is constantly made aware of the reality of discrimination, such as in changing train cars, he still understands his role as making inroads into the segregated society. Miller finds himself in a moral dilemma regarding the treatment of Major Carteret’s son. As a physician and as a person, he cannot refuse; however, he feels qualms about doing so because of the racial bases of the violence ripping apart their town.

Starkly contrasted to Miller’s studied, conservative approach is the rashness and impatience that Josh Green displays. He becomes increasingly concerned about the regressive direction of justice as rights are withdrawn from African Americans. When the local conflicts spill over into sustained violence, Green leaps into action. To the reader, it is not always clear what the author’s position is on Green’s justification in involvement in that violence. The larger moral question is under what circumstances violence becomes meaningful or inevitable. Green’s individual behavior focuses on Carteret because of his earlier involvement in Green’s father’s death. While condemning the motive of revenge, the author nevertheless suggests that a man must act as his honor obligates him to.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team