The Marrow of Tradition marked a turning point in Chesnutt's career, with its direct and overt treatment of racism and political injustices in the South. The story of the white Carterets and the mixed-race Millers, whose lives are intertwined because the wives are half sisters, delves into a wide range of social and race issues. The novel's depiction of lynchings that occurred during the Wilmington Race Riot proved to be too controversial for readers of the time; however, Chesnutt considered it his best, and modern critics have recognized the novel as a milestone in the Civil Rights movement.
This teaching edition of the novel features an extensive selection of materials that place the work in its historical context. Organized thematically, these materials explore caste, gender, and race after Reconstruction; postbellum laws and lynching; the 1898 Wilmington riot upon which the narrative is based; and the fin de siecle culture of segregation. The thematic sections are rich with documents such as letters, photographs, editorials, speeches, legal decisions, journalism, and essays from leading periodicals of the era. The writers represented include such well-known figures as W. E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as fascinating, half-forgotten characters like the black newspaper editor Alexander Manly and the white supremacist Thomas Dixon. The editors' introductions and selection headnotes provide additional background for understanding the mythology of race and Chesnutt's penetrating examination of its mechanisms and consequences.
Edited and with an Introduction by Eric J. Sundquist
Originally published by Mnemosyne Houghton Mifflin, 1901