Themes and Meanings
Charles Waddell Chesnutt’s depictions of the South make it fair to classify him as a regionalist writer of the American literary realism movement. His use of dialect, descriptions of local customs, and probing of the master-slave relationship all link him to that movement’s concern with bringing the customs of specific regions of the United States to the reading public’s attention. However, Chesnutt was not simply content to describe regional quaintness. Beneath the easygoing portraits of a comfortable southern culture lie the disturbing injustices of slavery, the power struggles between differing peoples, and the age-old desire for freedom.
In the story, two parallel themes shed ironic light on each other. The surface plot of Dick Owens’s outrageous parody of the chivalrous wooing of a lady is governed by the comic theme, “What a man will not do to please a woman is yet to be discovered.” However, an alternative theme to describe the hidden motives of Grandison might be phrased, what a man will not do to achieve freedom for himself and his family is yet to be discovered. Grandison bides his time until it is wise to act, and he acts only when he can free his entire family, not only himself. Thus, Grandison’s unselfish behavior, patience, and seriousness of purpose are implicitly contrasted to Dick Owens’s absurd, selfish, and cynical purposes. This contrast is further supported by the comment of Dick’s mentor, Judge Fenderson, who states...
(The entire section is 474 words.)