The Marrow of Tradition

by Charles Waddell Chesnutt

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Describe the moral standing and compromise of Josh Green and William Miller in The Marrow of Tradition.

Quick answer:

Josh Green's moral standing is based in his staunch opposition to white supremacy, while his moral compromise involves his willingness to kill another person as vengeance. William Miller's moral standing is more ambiguous because it derives from his continued moral compromise in professional advancement within white society. In the end, his integrity is shown by treating a white child whose father is a racist.

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The Marrow Of Tradition initially presents Josh Green and Doctor William Miller as two men who seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to anti-racist activism. Green is vehemently opposed to all types of white supremacy and strongly committed to trying to achieve justice for black people. He adheres to his position despite the risk of personal harm or even death at the hands of violent extremists. Although Miller is a physician, he initially seems more interested in pursuing personal advancement by continuously accommodating to the pressures of white society. He is hesitant to rock the boat not only because of the possible damage to his career but also because he believes that activism will be counter-productive and lead to increased violence.

Green’s militance is shown as an outgrowth of his deep conviction in racial equality, but also the effects of having lost his father to racist violence. While he advocates justice for all African Americans, the element of revenge also motivates his behavior. Because Green is willing to lay down his life, he is shown as abiding by his principles. Miller's position is complicated by his marriage to a biracial woman, which facilitates his functioning in upper-middle-class, white society. The author connects Miller to the racist Carteret by having their wives be half-sisters. Although Miller adheres to his professional oath by treating the Carteret’s child, he cannot help his wife, who must face the hypocrisy of her white sibling.

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