Over the past few semesters, I began my early American literature course with Thomas Jefferson. Starting with Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Notes from the State of Virginia, and letter to Benjamin Banneker was important considering the recent events in Charlottesville, VA. Typically, I start the first class with David Walker then back track to Jefferson, but after reading Ibram X. Kendi’s “What would Jefferson say about white supremacists descending upon his university?” I changed the order.
Speaking with Jerome Tarshis in 1974, Ernest Gaines spoke about his desire to write a story with “that barber shop type of thing” where people gather around a community center and relate stories about the past and the present. Looking at James Joyce’s “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” as an example, Gaines told Tarshis, “I think is one of the greatest short stories that I’ve read. It’s the most universal of his work; it’s the kind of thing I’d like to do, the barber shop type of thing: you get together and everybody talks.” With the novella The Tragedy of Brady Sims(2017), Gaines masterfully accomplishes the “barber shop type of thing.”
I have written about the ways that texts illuminate the psychological effects of slavery and Jim Crow segregation on both the minds of white and blacks alike. Today, I want to take a moment and look at one of Charles W. Chesnutt’s conjure tales that foregrounds the psychological effects of slavery and Jim Crow from the outset. “Dave’s Neckliss” originally appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1889. As with the other tales. Chesnutt uses the frame story of Uncle Julius, a former slave, telling John and Annie, Northerners transplanted to the South, a tale about the region.