Themes and Meanings
The Chaneysville Incident is an attempt by David Bradley to claim as an area of vital importance the lost histories of the black people whose story is an integral part of the cultural continuity of the United States. Much of the long African American struggle for equality has been recorded and recounted primarily in songs, tales, and fugitive journals, the only means available for people denied the opportunity for formal education. Bradley demonstrates and celebrates the vitality of this method of cultural preservation and transmission by capturing the enduring power of the storyteller as a crucial figure in the African American community. He also examines the ways in which such works might serve as models for writers who seek to create an imaginative account of events that pursues historical truth through the fusion of fiction and actual history. As Bradley observes, “the truth of the matter is that I don’t even know anymore” how to separate the two realms.
At the center of The Chaneysville Incident are three men in the Washington family, high points of a Homeric lineage running through an epic of black experience. The quest that John Washington undertakes is designed to help him to locate himself in terms of the accomplishments of his illustrious ancestors, to learn and understand their roles (and his) in a chain of historical continuity, and to set the direction of his life so that he can follow their examples. Like that of the...
(The entire section is 600 words.)