Give examples of the plantation life as  exemplified in  "The Goophered Grapevine" by Charles Waddell Chesnutt.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Goophered Grapevine” by Charles Wadell Chesnutt exemplifies the local color story.  Local colorists provide renditions of the life, manners, and environment of people in a particular region. Chesnutt, an African American writer, wrote to continue the oral tradition of the slaves. 

First, to answer the question:

His tale includes several sad tales of the cruelty of slave life on the plantation.  The former slave tells about another slave who ran away and was run down by white men with guns and dogs.  Further, he describes how one slave was sold to make money for the master.  There was no education, and slaves were forbidden to learn to read.  They entertained themselves and attempted to find power in the oral tradition of African folk tales that were repeated through the generations. This is the style of story that is told by Julius.

The story’s framework centers around grape vines. John and his wife come to  North Carolina to buy land to raise grapes and sell them to make wine.  One day, they go out to look at some property once used as a vineyard and discover the former slave Julius sitting on a bench eating grapes. 

Julius tries to  discourage John from buying the property because he said that it has been "goophered," which meant cursed.  He continues to tell the tale of the master who owned the plantation that did not trust the slaves with his grapes. The master did everything he could to keep the slaves from eating the grapes, but nothing worked.  Finally, he pays a local witch to gopher the land so that anyone who ate the grapes would die.  Julius indicates that the curse worked and two or three people did die after eating the grapes.

His story uses elements of the black folktales that were passed along between generations.  This is a story within a story.  The setting is in the same place with two distinct time periods: 1877 North Carolina during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War and the same place but pre-Civil War. 

Second, to give background:

The narration is first person with the initial narrator John, a northern businessman.  The second narrator is Julius, a former slave who speaks with a black southern dialect. He is a typical former slave of the time period: uneducated and unable to speak Standard English. In describing himself, Julius states:  

Day ain' na'er a man in dis settlement w' at won' tell you ole Julius McAdoo' uz bawn en raise on dis yer same plantation",

Southern literature often included the mystique of the lost cause. Julius's master joins the confederate Civil War effort and is immediately killed.  The plantation house and the property were allowed to ruin. Since that time, Julius has been living on the property and making use of the vineyards himself.

Despite Julius’s best efforts to talk John out of the buying the property, he does and the property becomes a successful vineyard again.  John even hires Julius as his coachman. 

The story is great fun, particularly in trying to translate the black heavy dialect.  It is almost as though he is speaking a foreign language.  Eventually, it becomes easier to understand when the reader realizes that most of all of the words are spelled as they would be sounded out. 

Julius gives is last warning to John:

En I tell yer w’at, marster, I wouldn’ vise you to buy dis yer ole vinya’d, ‘caze de goopher’s on it yit, en dey ain’ no tellin’ wh’en it’ gwine ter crap out.

Read the study guide:
The Goophered Grapevine

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