Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Post-Civil War Southern Society
After the end of the Civil War, the United States government embarked on a plan called...

(The entire section is 862 words.)

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Chesnutt aimed to counter the sentimental version of slavery so popular in fiction of the late nineteenth century. Sensing the unwillingness or inability of white America to come to terms either with the historical reality of slavery or with the failure of Reconstruction, he attempted to show the harsh reality of both pre-and post-Civil War society. His description of his mythical county has almost a documentary quality. His use of Sheriff Campbell as protagonist shows how easy it was for even a conscientious man to acknowledge his past irresponsibility. By depicting him as assuming an ingrained inferiority in his prisoner, Chesnutt exemplifies the attitude that institutionalized second-class citizenship for blacks from the late 1870’s until long after the author’s death.

The title of the story is clever. Although only one child is introduced early in “The Sheriff’s Children,” the author establishes that Sheriff Campbell had been one of the few people in the region to own numerous slaves before the war, and thereby hints at the significance of the title. The sheriff survives his ordeal because one of his children disarms the other. Chesnutt does not develop the character of the quietly resourceful daughter very amply, however, and he does not permit her father to reveal to her the prisoner’s identity. Because of his decision to confine the moral conflict to the father, he establishes no relationship between the children.

The author reveals the sheriff’s chief failing to be a lack of imagination. Unable to imagine a black fugitive enterprising and daring enough to appropriate an unguarded revolver in the midst of the threat from the mob...

(The entire section is 685 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Structure and Setting
The structure of the story emphasizes the intermingling of the story and the setting, showing that one...

(The entire section is 634 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Duncan, Charles. The Absent Man: The Narrative Craft of Charles W. Chesnutt. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998.

Kulii, Elon A. “Poetic License and Chesnutt’s Use of Folklore.” CLA Journal 38 (December, 1994): 247-253.

Lehman, Cynthia L. “The Social and Political View of Charles Chesnutt: Reflections on His Major Writings.” Journal of Black Studies 26 (January, 1996).

McElrath, Joseph R., Jr., ed. Critical Essays on Charles W. Chesnutt. New York: G. K. Hall, 1999.

McFatter, Susan. “From Revenge to Resolution: The (R)evolution of Female Characters in Chesnutt’s Fiction.” CLA Journal 42 (December, 1998): 194-211.

McWilliams, Dean. Charles W. Chesnutt and the Fictions of Race. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002.

Pickens, Ernestine Williams. Charles W. Chesnutt and the Progressive Movement. New York: Pace University Press, 1994.

Render, Sylvia Lyons. Charles W. Chesnutt. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Wilson, Matthew. Whiteness in the Novels of Charles W. Chesnutt. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

Wonham, Henry B. Charles W. Chesnutt: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Andrews, William L., The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt, Louisiana State University Press, 1980.


(The entire section is 238 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

Late 1800s: In 1880, the African American population of North Carolina is 531,000 out of a total population of 1.4 million. African...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Conduct research to find out more about the trials of African Americans in the post-Civil War South. Do you think an African American stood a...

(The entire section is 194 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Kate Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby, written in the same period as Chesnutt’s fiction, also deals with the subject of racial...

(The entire section is 378 words.)