Read the house behind the cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt Online


The House Behind the Cedars, which many consider Charles Chesnutt’s finest novel, tells of John and Lena Walden, mulatto siblings who pass for white in the postbellum American South. The drama that unfolds as they travel between black and white worlds constitutes a riveting portrait of the shifting and intractable nature of race in American life. This edition revitalizes aThe House Behind the Cedars, which many consider Charles Chesnutt’s finest novel, tells of John and Lena Walden, mulatto siblings who pass for white in the postbellum American South. The drama that unfolds as they travel between black and white worlds constitutes a riveting portrait of the shifting and intractable nature of race in American life. This edition revitalizes a much-neglected masterpiece by one of our most important African-American writers. As Werner Sollors writes, “William Dean Howells did not overstate his case when he compared Chesnutt’s works with those by Turgenev, Maupassant, and James . . . and [Chesnutt] has become one of the most important ‘crossover’ authors from the African-American tradition.”From the Trade Paperback edition....

Title : the house behind the cedars
Author :
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ISBN : 8131062
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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the house behind the cedars Reviews

  • karen
    2019-02-21 07:54

    power not sure how i feel including this in my "summer of missed classics" jag, because of all of my friends, no one has read it. so its not really in the same league as pride and prejudice or notes from underground, where it was just me who had skipped 'em. but its still something ive always meant to read, but never got around to. that said - it should have been read by all of my friends, real or faking it. it is an amazing piece of writing that gives me everything that i like out of a novel: family secrets, missed opportunities, misunderstandings and tragically bad timing. so its like my beloved hardy, but in the american south and a little darker, racially. its your summer, too - read it.

  • L
    2019-02-20 05:59

    "Time touches all things with destroying hand; and if he seem now and then to bestow the bloom of youth, the sap of spring, it is but a brief mockery, to be surely and swiftly followed by the wrinkles of old age, the dry leaves and bare branches of winter. And yet there are places where Time seems to linger lovingly long after youth has departed, and to which he seems loath to bring the evil day. Who has not known some even-tempered old man or woman who seemed to have drunk of the fountain of youth? Who has not seen somewhere an old town that, having long since ceased to grow, yet held its own without perceptible decline?" (3)Such an opening should suggest to anyone that this is a novel of often beautiful prose. The storyline, however, is one that was - racial factors aside - also a little too classic, maybe on purpose. A kind of girl meets boy with some Romeo and Juliet kinds of missed opportunities and coincidences along the way. The suspense that this brought to me was the typical kind I get from love stories where things don't go perfectly - you know the kind, where you have to wrench your eyes away, where you don't want to keep on reading because of a sense of foreboding and also a bit of frustration at the expectation of cliche, but also where you HAVE to keep on reading just to make yourself feel better...? Yeah, that. It felt weird, maybe even made me a little guilty, to have such inspired (uninspired) feelings from such an important novel on race relations. But part of this classical storyline, I feel, is deliberate. Chesnutt was a classically read author and his romantic notions in some ways (as seen, for example, in his multiple descriptions of the protagonist Rena as being like a Greek statuette) are evocative of this. As far as the social issues presented in this novel, lots of interesting and in some cases unexpected insights are allowed to settle in the minds of these characters. As expected, the world Chesnutt evokes is far from uncomplicated, though there is a kind of blind dogged devotion presented in the characters of Blanche and Frank that smacks slightly of caricature. On the other end, there is John, whose dialogue seems at times a little too stiff and formal. Still there is a lot to absorb in this book that make it worth the read. When I think about what makes some books 'classic' and others not, I wonder what would have happened if books written by non-white authors were ever made to 'pass' into the canon - this book, in style, content, and presentation, would have easily fit in among lots of the 19th century American authors that most readers would consider a part of that tradition and, in its eye-opening clarity and willingness to discuss difficult matters of race, would have in some cases surpassed it.

  • Samantha Glasser
    2019-03-04 04:58

    The House Behind the Cedars is the story of a brother and sister, John and Rena, who share the misfortune of being one-eighth African American. Their mother is a "quadroon" who was kept by a wealthy white man, but when he died, his will was flawed, so she and the children got no money.John's white skin and thirst for knowledge led him to become a highly intelligent young man, and when he was old enough to leave, he set out to make a new life for himself as a lawyer. He acquired a white wife who passed away after bearing a son, who needed a woman from the family to care for him.John returned home to introduce his newly matured sister into society, partially to help care for his son, but also to bring Rena away from the shame of her heritage. She enjoys the attention she receives and is courted by a handsome and desirable white man.Disaster strikes when their mother falls ill and Rena returns home to care for her. Twists and tangles in the plot bring the family secret dangerously close to being discovered and all the work of breaking into society tumbling down upon them.A highly entertaining passing narrative, The House Behind the Cedars is a piece of groundbreaking historical fiction that examines the injustices of the "one drop" mentality that said one drop of black blood made a person black. Author Charles Chesnutt was himself a light-skinned black man who was accepted into the literary community as a white man, only to be outed later. His influence between both parts of society helped his message permeate through many circles.Aside from its historical importance, this book is a product of its time because of the story structure. The Victorian era was littered with melodramatic plots such as this where secrets and tangled plots came together in a fast-paced and exciting novel. For fans of that type of fiction, this book is a must-have. Read this book for free through Project Gutenberg:

  • Andrew Shipe
    2019-02-28 07:12

    Moments in this novel are amazing, especially read from the lens of the 2016 hashtag battle between BlackLivesMatter and AllLivesMatter: "The Southern mind, in discussing abstract questions relative to humanity, makes always, consciously or unconsciously, the mental reservation that the conclusions reached do not apply to the negro, unless they can be made to harmonize with the customs of the country." Chesnutt's first novel sometimes compares to the style and humor of Jane Austen: "Mars Geo'ge was white and rich, and could do anything. Plato was proud of the fact that he had once belonged to Mars Geo'ge. He could not conceive of any one so powerful as Mars Geo'ge, unless it might be God, of whom Plato had heard more or less, and even here the comparison might not be quite fair to Mars Geo'ge, for Mars Geo'ge was the younger of the two." That said, there are also times where the style and plot is overwrought, especially compared to the realist and naturalist writers around in 1900 (say, Twain, Flaubert). Still, even Twain pulled back from the danger when he continued with the manuscript of Huck Finn and tacked on the funny ending with Tom Sawyer that he knew would sell. The topic of race has never been an easy pill to swallow in American literature, and when a writer narrows that topic to miscegenation, mixed marriages (not legal throughout the United States until 1967 [Loving v. Virginia]), and the opportunities and costs of "passing" (i.e., a multiracial person assimilating into a society as a white person, denying his/her ancestry), well, I'm willing to forgive some of the melodramatics.

  • Joshua Savage
    2019-03-13 13:03

    The only reason why this work received four stars is because of what I consider a poor ending. This is Chesnutt's first novel, so perhaps the ending is to be forgiven for an author who expanded a short story into a novel. Besides the ending, this book is wonderful. Chesnutt's exquisite prose, complex characters and motifs, and exploration of race is stunning. This book is definitely worth the read, regardless of how it ends; indeed, the ending may be seen as a Romantic fulfillment of themes too difficult to dwell on.

  • Sherrey
    2019-02-24 08:00

    Just happened to be helping my husband locate a book on an adjacent library shelf, picked it up, and loved every page. Took me awhile to finish as I'm what my husband labels a "multiple book reader" (usually 4 or more at a time). However, I'm so glad I found this amazing piece of literature that has so long been hidden from view except as a classroom assignment. I consider it tragic that more people have not been exposed to the subject matter or to Chesnutt's writing style. Held it today after turning the last page and said out loud, "I don't want to return this one to the library!"

  • Nicole
    2019-03-18 05:59

    This may be my all time favorite book. It had an unusual storyline, and did not end at all like I expected it to. If you want to be moved...pick this one up.

  • Sammy
    2019-02-20 09:45

    A must read in your lifetime. Shines a different perspective on the lives of many. Highly recommended!

  • N.T. Embe
    2019-03-04 06:01

    I must say, this book turned out to be quite more of an adventure than I expected it to be! It started out one way completely, and then before you knew it, our main character had completely dropped out of the picture while everything went on without him. It's a very intriguing book, and it's written well and flows so smoothly! You can read it like drinking in fresh air after being cooped up inside a stale house for days! It's enjoyable, it's pleasant, and it's a charm to read. In fact, I was more than surprised by many of the events and concepts that this book played with. While I'm sure it's not an old idea that the intermingling of races--especially on a romantic front--can lead to problems, it's still interesting how they brought about much of the interplay here in this book.In fact, the most shocking thing to me is that the book started out one way and changed at multiple times to be something completely different. It's not a linear read at all. It's got characters in it that are pure and single-minded, and others that are confused and wandering in circles. Everyone has either objectives to follow and meet, or has emotions tugging at their heartstrings so deftly that they cannot help but listen to them and fly madly into fits of logic! Logic! Not passion! How impressive and singularly strange this book was! For the first half of it we were following the story of John, who was our main character by all respects and standards, and his objective was pretty simple enough: "Come with me my beautiful sister! For I can make a better life for you than in our shoddy hometown!" And thus WHOOSH he speeds her away and she becomes a lady of respects and manners, beautiful and intelligent and desired by one man in particular. It becomes a case of courtship, and then it all BOOM. Grows complex! As romances do.I know this is hardly an explanation, but let's just dabble into the second half, and the ODDEST shift of any book that I've EVER seen! Somewhere, somehow, our main character, John, just drops completely off the face of the earth for us halfway through the book. He's there, and then suddenly, we realize, "Heyyyy... we started off reading about John. But now we're constantly reading about his sister Rena." And mind you, I was NOT upset about this. I think that John came off as a narrow-minded character, with a singular view and purpose in his mind, and that he was acting along a path that followed only what he was attempting to achieve. Once that succeeded or failed, he didn't care beyond that. If it began to mess with his plans, he left it and moved on, which is essentially what he did throughout the entire book: with his mother, his sister, and anyone else he ever worked or interacted with. He's not a person who cares beyond the objective. He has a mind set on a goal, and that's the end-all and only source of concern in his life. *Shrugs* I don't quite hate him, but neither can I say that I exactly fully like him either. He doesn't do anything particularly EVIL in my opinion, even if he is something of an ass. But when he fades away towards the middle of the book, and we start following Rena's life and what she's going through, then I can't be bothered with John anymore.Rena is a much more honest, emotive, and relateable character I feel. Her voice is strong throughout the book, and her feelings aren't some stupid whining patheticness like most girls today are written up with. She's not a shallow character. Not at all. She has so much depth that it makes the second half of the book almost a torment to read about at times! In a good way. When she's feeling agony and pain, then we do too. And when she's thrilled or annoyed, we feel it too. We right there empathizing with her all the way, and it's a lot of fun to do so! Even if it brings out a lot of emotional feelings in us. I mean, for a character as strong and beautiful in heart and soul as in her features, she's a woman that goes through so much that it's terrible. But that's what makes you love her all the more. Because she's tough enough to keep on trying and fighting in whatever way she knows how, so that she can keep on moving forward. And if she's not fighting, she's finding ways to outsmart others, and she's considering how others are acting and feeling. God she's such a wonderfully complex and thought-provoking woman!And things are compounded by the two side characters that I love, love, love, love, LOVE! FRANK AND GEORGE. I love them both SO MUCH. George is the epitome of the olden knight figure, glorious and noble, brave and charming in every single way. The way that the speech even in the book changes when we're having the story narrated to us whenever it's following his part of the story, it's GORGEOUS. Words and phrases are used that would make ANY woman's heart SING! He's absolutely magnificent in heart. The only thing that makes me sad, is that it takes him a long time in order to realize the fullness of his own power. And it's a shame, because even though I love seeing how he grows in beauty and strength by doing exactly as he wants, no matter what others say and what the repercussions might be, it all comes a little too slowly and late. And that just causes so many problems in the book that it's not something I can really talk about. Yet even then, I admire the growth and potential for beauty that George has. And then there's Frank. And oh God, Frank. He... makes my heart throb and ache, and I can only say that I love him the more every single time that his name is mentioned, and with every additional thing that he does. He is... so selfless, devoted. He gives every last shred of his love--his pure and undying love--to Rena, and he doesn't ask for a thing in return. He loves her, and he doesn't ask for her to love him, doesn't ask for her to ever even consider loving him. He is merely glad to be friends with her, to hear her speak, to know that she is happy--and that she is with someone who deserves her and her beautiful heart, her intelligence and warmth. Frank is the ultimate selfless and magnificent character in this story just for his own ability to give up everything except for the supporting of the one that he loves more than anything, without ever wanting to incriminate her or ask from her the slightest thing besides her own happiness. How can you not love a character of this worth? Of this merit? He is the ultimate supporting character, epitomizing it in perfection. And that's why I love him so dearly.Overall, this book was absolutely impressive in how readable and enjoyable I found it! I think it conveyed the thoughts of interracial relationships amazingly well, as well as having a relationship at its central focus that was actually enjoyable to read about, even at its worst moments. The weird thing is that it still doesn't read like a romance book when it starts out, and that's the shocking thing! Usually romances have dead give-aways that they're going to eventually become a romance, but this started off as something so completely different that when it eventually progressed into what could be called almost a full romance--and even then tentatively since there are so many other issues constantly going on--that it was enjoyable still! I was surprised by the progress of the story, but that was the good thing about! Being surprised was pleasant, and even though the ending left me with something of a terrible hole in my heart, I think that's what made this story so... beautiful and profound all at the same time.Although I bought this book for a class, I love it. I can say it confidently and proudly: It was a GREAT book. And I'm HAPPY I have it in my collection, because it's going to be worth keeping, and has been worth more than every last cent I spent on it. I absolutely advise you pick up this story and read it. Because of the type of story it is, I think it's very susceptible to not being liked by others. But I feel it's a story that has so much else behind it and to it, that it's a beautiful and really thought-provoking read in itself. It's worth it, just for the experience. So if you're afraid you'll read it and end up hating it, then definitely don't go and attempt to buy it. Take it out of a library or find it second-hand first. But at the very least, I recommend it as one of those books you just have to give a shot. Who knows! You might find it more valuable than the sum of its parts, or maybe the end is what makes it for you. But definitely give it a try.

  • Mike
    2019-02-26 07:06

    4.5 stars. Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars has a fairy tale title and contains elements of the classic fairy tale, including a chivalrous "prince," the breaking of an enchantment (the possibility of Rena living as a white lady), moments of inner recognition or revelation, and even a flight through a dark and stormy forest. However, Chesnutt balances the fairy tale elements with an exploration of the psychological underpinning of miscegenation. He humanizes mixed-race characters as opposed to portraying them as vilified outcasts, even suggesting that they might one day be those who bring together the races by helping to overcome the social, religious, and legal barriers ingrained in American culture. There are no evil, scheming characters. Instead, we have good, honest people (even if they are burdened by the prejudices of their time and place) who are trapped in a caste system under which they were born: the young boy who passes as white not because he is a con man or rejects his race, but because he wants to practice law; a judge who helps the boy, but doesn't dare let anyone else know, for the sake of his reputation and the boy's future; the white aristocrat whose foolish actions are the result of being a young person in love, but who is every bit as trapped as John and Rena by his race, including the inherent prejudices. He pursues the mixed-race Rena, but he doesn't want to risk his social standing. He is not the evil white aristocrat, but a human with faults and conflicting desires. The ending is tragic and melodramatic--perhaps too much so--with Rena becoming literally trapped between her (equally obnoxious) white and black suitors. But I can forgive Chesnutt for the ending, since the novel was impossible to put down.

  • Larry Piper
    2019-03-18 12:55

    What a wonderful and interesting book. Chesnutt was an African American author who wrote around the turn of the 20th century. Who knew there were such people a century ago? Oops, my whiteness is showing again. Anyway, this book is set in the south just after the Civil War. The primary problem it addresses is mixing the races, so to speak. John Warwick, a prosperous young man visits a small town, Patesville. At night, he sneaks off to visit the women who live in a nice house behind a hedge of cedars. It turns out to be where his mother, Mis' Molly Walden and sister, Rena, live. John has been gone for ten years and has "passed for white". He thinks his sister should return back with him to his home. He has a small child for whom she could help care. He has become a widower. But first, he sends her off to school to become refined in the ways of white society. When Rena, now known as Rowena Warwick, joins him, she fits immediately into the polite, chivalric society of the better class of white folks. A young man, George Tryon, falls in love with Rowena and they set a date for their marriage. But then, Rena has a dream about her mother's being sick. So, she returns to Patesville to nurse her. By chance, Tryon has some business in Patesville and sees Rena there and realizes that she wasn't white after all. It seems she has slightly "tainted" blood, and it would never do to similarly taint one's own blood line. So, of course, we have the problem that still plagues our society even now in the 21st century. Will true love and true character find a way to remove the blinders we have placed on ourselves by our specious views on race?

  • Christopher Cook
    2019-03-20 10:12

    I actually had to read this novel for my English 265 class, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Out of the three novels that I read for that class, this was, by far, my favorite. It's a rather quick and easy read and offers a lot of insight into eighteenth century life and how racism played a role, and it's very interesting to see how it was then in comparison to how it is now. The novel has very strong characters, such as John and Rena, that are either very easy to love or very easy to hate, but easy to feel something intense for regardless. Published in 1900, it tells the story of a glorified tragedy that is intended to send a very powerful message to its readers; racism leads to senseless tragedy.

  • Abby
    2019-03-13 11:46

    This book made me: sputter in anger, sigh with joy, hold my breath in suspense, gasp in horror, and cry out for the injustice of it all. The ending tore out my heart and ripped it to shreds. This book is incredibly insightful. It's an American fairy tale, Jane Austen novel, and Shakespeare tragedy all in one. The eloquence and tragedy of this book has probably done more to my views on racism in the post-Civil War south than all other arguments against it, combined. Somebody please make a full-length movie of this!

  • Anna Parkinson
    2019-02-27 05:47

    I really enjoyed this book. The whole idea of having to pretend to be someone you're not just to be given equal opportunity and a chance at the "American Dream" really struck a nerve with me, and although this is still indeed the case, it reminds me of how far we have come. This book addressed a really important issue, and althought it is fiction, it has much truth in it--even today. Sad reality but good read.

  • Eric
    2019-03-15 07:54

    Mostly theoretically interesting for its problematic project of black uplift through racial amalgamation. Should be read in conjunction with Chesnutt's periodical writing on the same subject. What is most interesting, to me, in this book is the manner in which the narrative celebrates the black mother as a site of (amalgamated) happy futurity at the same time as it also marks her as a site of necessary rejection and forgetting.

  • Jewell
    2019-03-09 09:01

    Quite a compelling story that deals with an aspect of African American history that still has an impact today. Although at times I found the book to be somewhat melodramatic the story as a whole was quite a page turner. I found myself giving Rena kudos after reading her letter to Tyron requesting that he leave her be. I Really enjoyed this read. Plan to read more works by this author.

  • Tiffany
    2019-03-04 05:01

    A book that delves into the lives of a family that uses their fairer skin to "pass" in a society that is not at all embracing of blacks. It shows the compromise of self and values to to embraced in "normal" society.Of course the ending can only lead to tragedy. Anytime you lose touch with self, this is the only inevitably road.

  • Jason
    2019-03-13 08:45

    One of the first books by a Black author on "passing" where "Black" folks tried to pass as "White." A bit flowery writing for my taste, but it points out so well the way White folks all up in arms as mixed-race folks undid and confused the concept of race.

  • Caroline
    2019-02-20 10:47

    pretty damn sad. too late now Tryon.

  • Amanda
    2019-02-28 10:05

    An excellent novel by a somewhat overlooked early 20th century author. One I would definitely recommend, and one I would love to teach one day...

  • YourLovelyMan
    2019-03-17 07:45

    If you can imagine Thomas Hardy writing a book where South Carolina is the setting and racism is the instrument of tragedy, you'd have a rough idea of what to expect from The House Behind The Cedars. And while it's pretty heavily Victorian in style, The House Behind the Cedars is still a fine read on race, romance, and community in the post-Civil War south.The plot is classically Victorian, at times bordering on cliche: A love triangle (or some other shape) forms between several men of various racial castes and one woman, Rena, who passes for white in appearance but has African heritage, making her black by law. One of her paramours is a white man stuck in southern tradition--a picture of chivalry, but profoundly racist. Another is a black man who appears well to do, but has skeletons in his closet.The language, too, is a product of its era. At times the insights and expressions are penetrating, but at times they seem to go on a little too long. Take this quote as an example:"Erelong, he fondly believed, the recovery would be so far complete that he could consign to the tomb of pleasant memories even the most thrilling episodes of his ill-starred courtship."Or the following illustration of Rena's predicament, strength of character, and personability:"The good lady...had brought a ray of sunshine into [Rena's] monotonous life, heretofore lighted only by the uncertain lamp of high resolve."Regarding the ending, I was a little disappointed. For the buildup, I expected more of a bang. There was also one decent character, Frank, whose character I thought could have been much more fleshed out, considering the role he ultimately plays in the story.Even so, I enjoyed this book. And even though the story was somewhat formulaic, it was executed well. Recommended for fans of American historical novels and forgotten classics....One more quote I happened to really like, regarding Rena, from her brother John Warwick's inner monologue:A woman with her figure ought to be able to face the world with the confidence of Phryne confronting her judges.

  • Herman Gigglethorpe
    2019-02-18 06:09

    The House Behind the Cedars interested me for the first quarter or so of the book, and then turned into a dull tragic romance. Romance usually bores me, so I guess I'm not being fair. But have I ever been fair in my reviews? Chesnutt deals with similar subject matter to Nella Larsen's book Passing, but Passing is shorter and better. The book begins with "John Warwick", a black lawyer who has "passed" as white, going back to his hometown to visit his family. He notes how much has changed during Reconstruction, but many traditions such as racist curfews remain. His sister Rowena, or "Rena", is crowned Queen of Love and Beauty at a mock jousting tournament by a man named Tryon, and they are engaged shortly afterwards. However, she is revealed to be black shortly afterwards, and Tryon has nightmares about it ever since. Much like in Passing, the woman who passes dies in the end.It feels like a short story dragged out to the length of a novel. Chesnutt's dry wit in the narration about the Old South helped me push through the book, but a lot of space is taken up by the characters' angst without much happening, which gets old quickly.Much of the dialogue is in dialect, mostly to contrast the level of education between Warwick and the characters who aren't "passing". One paragraph of this may have more apostrophes than some chapters of other novels, but it mostly makes sense if you sound it out in your head.I guess I learned that when I read older books, I should stick to plot-driven melodramas. They're more to my taste.

  • Bryan
    2019-02-24 05:57

    The premise of this book, racial miscegenation, is not something I’ve read a lot about. My personal feelings are, of course, that there should be no stigma attached in the view of any citizen of this great progressive country. Unfortunately, in the post civil war reconstruction era this well written novel is set in, a great many people have negative views concerning this topic. Therefore, although heartbreaking, it is predictable, yet tragic, that George cannot overcome his personal reluctance and insecurities about miscegenation until it is too late. The primary lesson of this book is to think of areas in your life where racism or sexism limits your outlook and change them; lest you end up like poor George.

  • Mallory
    2019-02-25 08:07

    Great book that covers post-Civil War race and class in the South. A particularly detailed and nuanced look at how the lightness or darkness of ones skin can impact ones social standing, even within a race. Unfortunately, the sad final lesson at the end of the book was: if you are an African-American woman you get screwed by both racism AND misogyny.

  • Lavia Walker
    2019-03-18 11:12

    This book is everything that you would expect a passing novel. I didn't give it five stars because I just didn't like the ending. I had a general idea of how the book was going to end when I started it because it is a tragedy, but it honestly felt a little rushed. Still a great read though.

  • Elise
    2019-03-16 07:42


  • Joshua
    2019-03-05 09:05

    InterestingThe book is interesting in concept and has a good message. It is not written for me though. I personally did not care for it, but I do see the value in it.

  • Joshua Thompson
    2019-03-02 09:02

    Great narrative of a story that you know is going to end badly. An early classic on race relations post-Civil war.

  • Caitlin
    2019-03-02 08:54

    This book was ok. It was important in our discussion of naturalism as well as issues of race and sex. Instead of a review, I present my in-class response to this reading (spoilers):I hope we eventually move on to some literature in which tragic death isn’t such a prominent occurrence. I was totally unprepared for Rena’s death at the end of this book. Even with the knowledge that I was reading naturalist literature, I didn’t expect the tragic ending.When I flipped through to the end to count the chapters, I noticed the title of the last one, “A Mule and a Cart.” Before Rena leaves with her brother, Frank says, “Ef you ever wanter come home, an’ can’t git back no other way, jes’ let me know, an’ I’ll take my mule an’ my kyart an’ fetch you back, ef it’s from de een’ er de worl.” And so, when I read in chapter four Frank’s declaration of devotion, I assumed correctly that it was a foreshadowing of the end of the story.However, I assumed incorrectly that it would lead to a satisfactorily happy ending. As improbable as it was for Frank to find Rena unconscious in the brush that morning, I couldn’t help but be relieved and glad despite the contrivance; my mind jumped ahead, picturing himnursing her back to health and the two of them living quietly and peacefully, if not happily, ever after.And then she dies. And it bothers me that although the story begins with John, and John is the instigator of the whole chain of events that eventually leads to Rena’s death, he is nowhere to be seen in the end of the story. John leaves Patesville on page 124, less than 2/3 of the way through the story, and is never heard of again. Then again, Rena’s death isn’t mentioned til the very last line, and her illness was sudden, but still it seems cruel that her brother is at least insome way responsible for her great downfall, but completely absent for the repercussions.Despite what I perceive to be John’s responsibility, no real blame is placed on any one character in the book; not the father of John and Rena for not providing for them; not John for taking Rena from safety; not George for his [socially normal] racism. This is exemplified inRena’s “argument of divine foreordination” during her last conversation with John, which gives voice to the naturalism in the story. What Rena calls “the will of God” is her fate, which evenshe sees as obviously unavoidable since things fell apart when she tried to move beyond “her place.” Despite the number of people involved, and the number of their little faults, everythingultimately just comes down to the misfortune of the way things are.John isn’t really a likeable character. He’s pretty selfish and manipulative at times (particularly that scene in the beginning when he guilt trips his mother into letting Rena go), and despite his not being absolutely awful, I didn’t care for him at all. I wonder,though, if I can blame that on the naturalism as well. Is John just a product of his environment? Was that just his fate, to end up coming off more cool and detached rather than warm and connected, because of his becoming a self-made man?

  • Pete
    2019-03-17 07:53

    Weird, messy, deep novel about race, passing, love. Might be more fun to think about than read but it is *really* fun to think about. s/o to Cleveland authors