(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Conjure Woman is a novel in the form of a collection of short stories about the New and the Old South. John, the narrator, comes to the New South after the Civil War because of the business opportunities and the healthy climate it offers him and his wife. Land and labor are cheap, and the area is conducive to farming. He buys an old plantation and transforms the unproductive vineyard into a lucrative grape business. John and Annie’s boredom with slow-paced southern life is offset largely by Uncle Julius’s stories of the Old South. As John relates these tales, using Uncle Julius’s dialect, readers become aware of the old former slave’s cleverness and wit.

The collection begins with “The Goophered Grapevine.” Uncle Julius tells the story to prevent John from buying the old plantation. Uncle Julius lives in one of the slave cabins and makes a living selling the grapes that he gathers from the run-down vineyard. After Uncle Julius tells John about the plight of an ex-slave named Henry who mistakenly ate grapes from the “goophered” vines and died when the vines withered, John permits Uncle Julius to continue living on the place and gives him a job.

In telling “Po Sandy,” Uncle Julius’s goal is to prevent the narrator and his wife from tearing down an old schoolhouse on the plantation. John’s wife wants a new kitchen, and John wants to build it with lumber from the schoolhouse. Uncle Julius, who has his own plans...

(The entire section is 595 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Andrews, William L. “Dialect Stories.” In The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. Focuses on the literary tradition of The Conjure Woman. Chesnutt wrote The Conjure Woman in the popular local-color tradition of the 1880’s. The dialect, cultural habits, and the terrain of the Cape Fear area of North Carolina are faithfully represented in The Conjure Woman.

Ashe, Bertram D. “’A Little Personal Attention’: Storytelling and the Black Audience in Charles W. Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman.” In From Within the Frame: Storytelling in African-American Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2002. Analysis of the importance of the framing story to the short stories contained within The Conjure Woman and the function of that frame for African American readers in particular.

Babb, Valerie. “Subversion and Repatriation in The Conjure Woman.The Southern Quarterly 25 (Winter, 1987): 66-75. Compares Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories to The Conjure Woman. Harris uses black dialect to reinforce his views of white supremacy. Chesnutt uses black dialect as a “subversive strategy to undo the ideology of white supremacy.”

Frenberg, Lorne. “Charles W. Chesnutt and Uncle Julius: Black Storytellers at the Crossroads.” Studies in American Fiction 15 (1987): 161-173. Focuses on The Conjure Woman’s representation of the reconstructed South. John and Uncle Julius are at a “crossroad” of surviving during a transitional period in history. Chesnutt establishes a barrier between his white narrator, John, and his black storyteller, Julius, that operates as both “mask” and “veil.”

Gloster, Hugh M. “Negro Fiction to World War I.” In Negro Voices in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965. Identifies The Conjure Woman as high art and asserts that Chesnutt entertains yet presents a realistic view of plantation life.

Render, Sylvia Lyons. “Business for Pleasure.” In Charles W. Chesnutt. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Discusses character and theme in The Conjure Woman. Uncle Julius is a stereotype who carries unconventional messages about slavery. The stories are connected by a conjure woman and man who reflect the cultural practices of a region.

Wilson, Matthew. “Border Controls of Race and Gender: Crane’s The Monster and Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman.” In Multiculturalism: Roots and Realities, edited by C. James Trotman. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. Uses the concept of multiculturalism to unearth hidden themes and the social history behind The Conjure Woman.