Quotes

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 603

Illustration of PDF document

Download The House Behind the Cedars Study Guide

Subscribe Now

If you are willing to come into my office, sweep it, keep my books dusted, and stay here when I am out, I do not care. To the rest of the town you will be my servant, and still a negro. If you choose to read my books when no one is about and be white in your own private opinion, I have no objection.

Chestnutt's book shows a gamut of white responses to race. Mr. Tyron still treats his former slave Plato as a slave and expects still to be addressed as master. In the above quote, Judge Straight shows a more enlightened view: he is proposing that the young black, John Walden, study his books so he can become a lawyer. This is not exactly twenty-first century liberalism, since Judge Straight visualizes Walden staying in "the closet" by pretending to be a servant, and thus not destabilizing the Southern social order. Also, Walden, though seen as black by his society, is actually mixed race, and Judge Straight had promised to provide for him as the son of a white friend, so his motives are not entirely pure.

"Sir George Tryon, the victor in the tournament, has chosen Miss Rowena Warwick as the Queen of Love and Beauty, and she will be crowned at the feast to-night and receive the devoirs of all true knights."

At this point, George doesn't realize Rowena is black (or mixed race) as she is able to "pass" as white. Some grumble that he should have chosen a local "belle" rather than someone who had just "blown" in to town, but at this point no sense of racial violation exists, showing the arbitrary and socially constructed nature of the racial divide. This scene is also notable in positing George, as Southern whites liked to envision themselves, as a noble and chivalric knight. It is ironic to call George a "true" knight.

Custom was tyranny. Love was the only law. Would God have made hearts to so yearn for one another if He had meant them to stay forever apart? If this girl should die, it would be he who had killed her, by his cruelty, no less surely than if with his own hand he had struck her down. He had been so dazzled by his own superiority, so blinded by his own glory, that he had ruthlessly spurned and spoiled the image of God in this fair creature, whom he might have had for his own treasure,—whom, please God, he would yet have, at any cost, to love and cherish while they both should live.There were difficulties—they had seemed insuperable, but love would surmount them. Sacrifices must be made, but if the world without love would be nothing, then why not give up the world for love? He would hasten to Patesville. He would find her; he would tell her that he loved her, that she was all the world to him, that he had come to marry her, and take her away where they might be happy together.

This quote shows love transcending the color wall. George, after spurning Rena for her race, is determined to be with and marry her when he finds out she is ill, even if she is black (or "mulatto" (mixed race)) and he is white. Of course, such a transgression means giving up his "world" and going somewhere where both will be tolerated as an interracial couple. Their world is not going to change overnight. But of course George doesn't have to find the solutions to those problems, since Rena dies before he can reach her.

Previous

Analysis