The Marrow of Tradition

by Charles Waddell Chesnutt

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Can you summarize chapters 1-5 of The Marrow of Tradition?

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The novel The Marrow of Tradition, written by Charles W. Chesnutt, is based on the Wilmington, North Carolina, race riots of 1898. Chesnutt’s story is centered around two couples, Major and Mrs. Olivia Carteret, and Dr. William and Mrs. Janet Miller, who live in the fictional town of Wellington.

Chapter One

Olivia Carteret has gone into labor early. Her doctor thinks this is due to her overwrought state. He blames her nursemaid Mammy Jane, but Mammy Jane explains to him the reason for Olivia’s highly emotional condition; when her mother died, Olivia was brought up by her aunt, Mrs. Ochiltree. Her father then began a relationship with a black servant who he got pregnant. The servant gave birth to Janet Miller, Olivia’s half-sister. Janet and her husband Dr. William Miller now live in Olivia’s ancestral home. The sight of the couple’s son has upset Olivia during her complicated first pregnancy as she fears she and her baby will die. After Olivia’s baby is delivered, the doctor tells her she won’t be able to have any more children.

Chapter Two

There is a christening party for the new baby, Theodore "Dodie" Felix. In attendance are Clara Pemberton, newspaper editor Lee Ellis, Tom Delamere, Tom’s grandfather, Mrs. Ochiltree, and a cousin. During a discussion about the honesty of black people the Major states:

"I object to being governed by an inferior and servile race."

Chapter Three

The Major’s racism is further highlighted when he gives all his staff a cigar except for Jerry, a black employee, and Mammy Jane’s grandson. When he is visited by a man called McBane, Jerry overhears their conversation and the statement "no nigger domination.”

Chapter Four

Theodore "Dodie" Felix is now six months old. He has a new nursemaid as Mammy Jane is suffering from rheumatism. The new nursemaid does not like the way that Mammy Jane fusses over her employees.

These old-time negroes, she said to herself, made her sick with their slavering over the white folks, who she supposed favored them and made much of them because they had once belonged to them,much the same reasons why they fondled their cats and dogs.

When Dodie starts to choke on an ivory rattle that Mrs. Ochiltree bought for him as a christening gift, the family doctor is called. On seeing him, he decides to call Dr. Burns, a specialist from Philadelphia.

Chapter Five

Dr. Burns is on his way to see Dodie. On the train, he bumps into Dr. William Miller, his former protege. They go to sit in the day car together, but Dr. Miller is asked to leave and told to sit in the "black" car. When Dr. Burns moves to go to the "black" car with his friend, he is told he must stay where he is.

“I warn you, sir," rejoined the conductor, hardening again, "that the law will be enforced. The beauty of the system lies in its strict impartialityit replied to both races alike."

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