Charles W. Chesnutt's The House Behind The Cedars

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At the tender age of seven years, Charles W. Chesnutt’s milieu was a tumultuous and political battlefield. The Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendments had both just been sanctioned, changing his and his family’s foreseeable future. Establishing his roots during this period of racial revolution with his fluid identity can easily be what influenced him to write a commentary on “racial passing,” such as The House Behind the Cedars. Racial passing, as defined by Randall Kennedy, an Ohio State Law journalist, is “a deception that enables a person to adopt certain roles or identities from which he would be barred by prevailing social standards in the absence of his misleading conduct.” Like his main characters Rena and John, Chesnutt grew up in an environment where he could pass as either black or white. His mixed upbringing, as well as the time period, are key elements in his attempt to comment on the color line and its effects on individuals by depicting two racially ambiguous characters on opposite sides of the color line. Chesnutt’s work begins by shortly …show more content…
This is due to the nature of the time period that Chesnutt wrote on; shortly after the Abolition, many pre-Abolition attitudes and prejudices were still held, regardless of what was legal or illegal. Due to this, not many knew how to feel or deal with individuals who were able to pass as both races. As was evident in other works of the era that commented on passing, such as William Wells Brown’s Clotel; or, the President’s Daughter, originally written in 1853, examines the plight of Clotelle, a slave girl who passes and ends up married to a white man and ultimately enslaved again. This particular work further reinforces the lack of experience that people of the time had had with dealing with individuals who could

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