The Goophered Grapevine by Charles Waddell Chesnutt

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Summary

In this story, a white Northerner and his wife travel to the south to investigate a vineyard that he is interested in purchasing. It had been neglected for some time, since the Civil War, but the soil is good and the prospective buyer, the narrator of the story, is hopeful. When he and his wife visit, they meet an old man, a former slave named Julius McAdoo, who advises them not to purchase the old plantation. Julius claims that the vineyard is "'goophered, cunju'd, bewitch.'" He proceeds to tell the narrator a story about the old Master McAdoo, a man who realized that slaves were eating up a bunch of his crop and so asked a local conjuring woman to "goopher" the place, to curse anyone who would eat his grapes. She does so, and the curse seems to work. Any person who steals the grapes dies within twelve months of their theft. However, one day, the master hires a new slave named Henry. Henry doesn’t know about the curse and eats the grapes, and since it was an honest mistake, the overseer takes him to the conjure woman for help. She tells him to rub the grapevine sap, and this saves his life. Each spring, his formerly bald head grows grape-shaped hair and he becomes sprightly and youthful; each fall, he loses all his hair and grows rheumatic and old again. One day, a Yankee visits the plantation and tells the master that he can make the grapevines grow twice as much, but his methods end up killing the vines instead; Henry, now so connected with the grapes, dies too. The master is eventually killed in the Civil War, and now only Julius remains to eat the grapes. In the end, the narrator decides to buy the plantation despite Julius’s advice, and it is thriving. He believes that Julius might have discouraged him from buying the property because he enjoyed being the only person with access to the grapes!

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Goophered Grapevine” is a story within a story in which each story is told by a different narrator. The first story has a nameless narrator, a vintner who lives in the Great Lakes area during the post-Civil War era. His wife’s ill health forces him to move to a warmer climate, so he selects Patesville, North Carolina, as the place to continue his career. He purchases a plantation that formerly belonged to a wealthy planter named McAdoo. One day he takes his wife to see the plantation, and it is at this point that the second story commences.

At the plantation, they encounter an old former slave, who introduces himself as Uncle Julius and informs them, in a strong dialect, that the vineyard on the plantation is “goophered,” that is, bewitched. He tells them how the vineyard was goophered during the days of slavery, when old Mr. McAdoo’s grapes were being eaten constantly by the slaves from miles around. Despite the best efforts of Mr. McAdoo and his overseer, no one was ever caught. In his desperation, McAdoo appealed to a free black conjure woman, Aunt Peggy, to help him out. Aunt Peggy was renowned far and wide for her ability to conjure, that is, to work magic. After she went into the grapevines and goophered them, she let all the slaves know that any slave who ate grapes from that vineyard would be dead within twelve months.

Shortly after this took place, a new slave by the name of Henry was bought to work on the plantation. No one told him about the goophered vineyard until he had eaten some of its grapes. The overseer took Henry...

(The entire section is 939 words.)