The Goophered Grapevine by Charles Waddell Chesnutt

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Analysis

The Yankee narrator of the story is practical in the extreme. While he admits that he begins looking for some property in the South in order to improve his wife's health, he speaks much more often about the economics of his decision. He says, early on, that the "climate and soil were all that could be asked for, and land could be bought for a mere song." Once he sees the property, he decides that it is

admirably adapted to grape-raising; the soil, with a little attention, could not have been better; and with the native grape, the luscious scuppernong, mainly to rely upon, I felt sure that I could introduce and cultivate successfully a number of other varieties.

The narrator views the property in terms of how much it can increase his wealth, and he never actually brings up his wife's health again. To him, it represents "a striking illustration of the opportunities open to Northern capital in the development of Southern industries." Julius McAdoo tells him a wonderful story with an incredibly folksy mood, elements of the supernatural, and fleshed out and interesting characters. It is creative and a little spooky, with an open ending that seems tailor-made to frighten away an even remotely superstitious buyer. Of course, the narrator is not remotely superstitious—or creative. He may be a good judge of character and land, but he lacks Julius's whimsy, the creativity that seems to be a part of Julius's very culture, his own nature. The narrator's way seems incredibly Northern—he is concerned with money and capital and success—while Julius's way seems incredibly Southern—he is concerned with preserving his way of life and living to enjoy it. The narrator, of course, wins the day by offering Julius steady "wages [...] for his services," implying that the industrial North tames the more creative South, ultimately taming its traditions and character.

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most obvious stylistic technique used by Chesnutt is the pronounced dialect speech of his African American characters. Critics of his day, William Dean Howells in particular, praised Chesnutt highly for his use of dialect, which they hailed as accurately reflecting the speech of blacks. In his later works, Chesnutt used dialect far more sparingly. No doubt this was in large part because the use of this dialect often aroused condescending laughter at the black characters, enabling the readers to feel a sense of superiority over those whom they considered poor, ignorant blacks. Uncle Julius, in the language he uses, the tales he tells, and the mannerisms he possesses, plays the role of...

(The entire section is 620 words.)