The Marrow of Tradition

by Charles Waddell Chesnutt

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Student Question

Describe Major Carteret in The Marrow of Tradition. Why is he seen as more negative than positive?

Quick answer:

So, to answer the question: Major Carteret has a character that is both bad and good. He is a bad character because of the racist things he says and does; on the other hand, he is a good character because his bigotry is shown to be reprehensible and self-destructive.

Expert Answers

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It would be very difficult to find anything good to say about Major Carteret's character. A staunch white supremacist, he shamelessly abuses his privileged position as editor of the Chronicle newspaper to stir up racial hatred. Indeed, so inflammatory are Carteret's editorials that they cause a full-scale race riot that leaves a number of innocent people dead.

Even among polite social gatherings, Carteret doesn't hold back from expressing his racist opinions. At one such gathering he opines that black men cannot be trusted, causing an argument between himself and one of his guests, John Delamere.

So deep-seated is the Major's prejudice that he won't even allow a black physician, Dr. Miller, to be present at his son Dodie's operation. Even though the presence of such a gifted medical practitioner could well save his son's life, the Major is not having any of it; he's so completely blinded by prejudice that he won't back down.

Later on, Major Carteret will change his tune and practically beg for Dr. Miller's assistance when Dodie's lying sick and in desperate need of surgery. But he only does so because there are no other doctors available; he hasn't had a sudden epiphany concerning race relations. In any case, Dr. Miller can't oblige for now as he's too busy mourning for his own child, killed in a race riot incited by Carteret's inflammatory editorials.

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