The Passing of Grandison

by Charles Waddell Chesnutt

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What conflicts are revealed in "The Passing of Grandison"? Use evidence from the short story to support your answer.

Conflicts include internal conflict between Dick Owens (too lazy) and his honest self (who does love Charity), and conflict between Owens' father and Dick when the father refuses Dick's plan to help Grandison escape.

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The conflicts in "The Passing of Grandison" range from an intimate scale within a person, to interpersonal level, and even to a regional and national level between the US North and South.

The story, set in the 1850's Kentucky, involves Dick Owens, a wealthy, lazy, young, white man...

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who wants to impress his sweetheart named Charity. He experiences an inner conflict with his honest self, who does love the young woman, and his indolent self, who is generally opposed to work. Charity tries to reform him. Dick asks her if she could love him if he did "something heroic," and she replies, "You never will, Dick. You’re too lazy for any use."

A conflict between Dick and his father, the Colonel, arises when Dick tries to implement his plan to help a slave escape, which he thinks will impress Charity. His father, suspicious that any slave might try to escape, imposes his will on Dick:

“I don't think it safe to take Tom [another slave] up North," he declared, with promptness and decision . . . . Dick did not insist, because he knew it was useless.

The Colonel does allow him to travel north with one particular slave, whom he deems eminently trustworthy. That man is Grandison.

The larger conflict between enslaved persons and slaveholders and the related abolition movement versus slavery both frame the story in many ways. There is reference to an abolitionist active in the Owens' area, who had helped free a slave. The North is painted as a land full of abolitionists, all trying to thwart the progress of Southern society. That larger conflict is personified within Colonel Owen. When Dick is about to head north, his father suggests that he stay alert for information:

Find out what the rascally abolitionists are saying and doing. They're becoming altogether too active for our comfort . . . .

When Grandison is getting ready to travel with Dick, the Colonel tells him

Grandison, that you have too much sense to permit yourself to be led astray by any such foolish and wicked people . . . . They're a desperate set of lunatics . . . .

There is also an unstated conflict between Grandison and the owner. Ultimately, by elaborately tricking the Colonel, it is Grandison who does escape.

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