Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The ostensible purpose of Charles Waddell Chesnutt’s story is to entertain its readers, providing no serious or profound message about the complexities of life. Chesnutt wrote the story at a time when local-color literature had gained popularity and after Joel Chandler Harris began publishing his “Uncle Remus” stories. At that time the white reading public was in the mood to read folksy, humorous tales about African Americans, and Chesnutt’s short stories satisfied that mood.

On the surface, the tale told is in the tradition of the black folk hero putting one over on an old master. Brer Rabbit, High John the Conqueror, and Stagolee were all African American folk heroes known for fooling the rich and powerful. When McAdoo cannot stop the slaves from eating his grapes, he tries to control them by playing up to their fears of the unknown and their respect for the powers of the conjurer. He almost succeeds, but Aunt Peggy and Henry outsmart him. Aunt Peggy conjures the grapevines in such a way that Henry can eat all the grapes that he wants without suffering any ill consequences.

This first work published by Chesnutt reveals hints of the racial themes and topics that were to permeate his later works and make him increasingly unpopular with white critics and readers alike, causing him to cut short his writing career in 1905.

Chesnutt’s works comment about the hardships of slave life so subtly that they might easily be...

(The entire section is 524 words.)