The narrator is an educated white man who runs a vineyard. His education is evident in his diction, and the short story points to his career where it says he “was engaged in grape culture” in Ohio. He is also racist, which can be inferred from his tone as he interacts with and speaks about the black man he encounters in the narrative. The narrator is looking for a vineyard somewhere in the south, because his wife, Annie, is ill, and a doctor has recommended the climate change. The narrator's cousin, who is engaged in the turpentine business in central North Carolina, plays a very minor role in being referenced as recommending that the Narrator find a plantation near where he lives, because the “climate and soil were all that could be asked for.”
As the narrator tours a vineyard for sale in North Carolina, Annie feels weak, and so he takes to her a log under some shading. It is there that he first meets Uncle Julius, the black man at the Vineyard who supposedly spins the yarn of the bewitched vineyard to try to prevent the narrator from purchasing it. The narrator tells his suspicion that this is the reason Uncle Julius invented the tale where he says, “I found, when I bought the vineyard, that Uncle Julius had occupied a cabin on the place for many years, and derived a respectable revenue from the neglected grapevines.” His suspicion showcases his racism further, as he does not assume it is a tale meant to entertain and explain some mysterious events, as such stories would commonly be intended.
Uncle Julius’s story involves the local plantation owners, Dugal McAdoo, Henry Brayboy, and Dunkin McLean, who own black slaves. These black slaves are accused by Dugal of stealing and eating the scuppernongs, a very fine grape grown on his vineyard. To prevent the theft in future, Dugal wickedly goes to see Aunt Peggy, a black witch and conjuring woman. The servant of evil supposedly ends up putting a curse on the vineyard so that anyone who eats the scuppernongs mysteriously dies. Evidence that the vineyard is cursed comes as several people perish unexpectedly, including Dugal’s coachman, a field hand, and (worst of all) an unsuspecting child. Aunt Lucy, the cook, is also briefly mentioned as the person who sees the coachmen eating the scuppernongs before he dies, a clue that points to the more likely possibility the story has been spun over a long period of time as happenstance deaths occurred, to explain them. Since Julius is used by Chestnut to tell the tale person to person with regionalist diction, the attempt to reflect how such tales grew and developed over time with retelling in the oral tradition is implied.
The black slave named Henry is probably the most important character featured in the tale. His health is apparently tied to the growth, death, and resurrection of the vineyard with the cycling seasons, and so he is attributed by Uncle Julius with helping the vineyards that he works for to great success.
The black characters in the short story are caricatures that suggest a racist perspective of black people, but this reading is complicated by the fact that Charles Chestnut was a black man and political activist. It is likely that Chestnut cleverly uses Uncle Julius to play off of the white narrator's racist expectations with the story he tells, in order to expose racial prejudice in white folks in general.
For example, Chestnut creates the character of the black conjuring woman who has probably brought her dark arts from Africa, a common fear tied to black slaves pre-Civil War. Then there is the “Uncle” who is spinning a lie for his own gain as he lazily sits and “slurps” grapes that do not belong to him. This is another example of white prejudice against black people, as he would rather deceive than work hard for his income. And then there is...
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