By Kenton Rambsy
An approach that takes cultural geo-tagging into account reveals Charles Chesnutt’s interest in depicting various locales across the Midwest and South. His stories take place in Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Presented across a broad time frame either leading up to the Civil War or in the years immediately following known as Reconstruction, his stories feature plantations as recurring settings.
Chesnutt does not offer vivid descriptions of rustic landscapes or incorporate specific landmarks. Instead, he creates a strong sense of place by tagging these settings with cultural facets reminiscent of a plantation.
Plantations present an opportunity to combine several different types of characters—formerly enslaved characters and servants as well as white slave owners and wealthy characters. For some characters, Chesnutt establishes a sense of place through his use of phonetic spellings that resemble southern drawls. The practice of representing regional vernaculars was integral to the southern settings that Chesnutt depicted in his stories.
In particular, Chesnutt’s homegrown southern characters constitute an essential geo-tagging feature of his short fiction. Chesnutt’s homegrown southern characters constitute an essential cultural signifier in his short fiction, deploying AAVE in dialogues to create scenes of the plantation South.
This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.