In many former Confederate sympathizers a “valid reason” to

In the original Pokemon movie, Pokémon: The First Movie, the antagonistic psychic type Mewtwo was quoted as saying, “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” While yes, this does sound strange coming from a fictional creature designed to be battled in a game and later watched in a kids movie let us not forget that sometimes fiction can hold the deepest of truths and meanings that apply to the real world, especially a world that is divided over class and race. Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition tells a fictional story, based on the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, of how various characters interact with one another in a series of events that ultimately lead to the town being engulfed in race riots. What makes the story a topic of debate is how certain plot lines are left unfinished and dropped entirely, like the love triangle between three young adults and the conclusion to a murder mystery. While Rachel A. Wise’s literary criticism of Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition cites the rise of the white, working middle class in the South as the reason behind the multiple side stories, I disagree and instead believe that the various side plots are used to bring in a wider white audience while also attempting to bring everyone closer together through their hardships in order to leave behind the color line that largely dictated the social atmosphere at the time. This can be seen by giving ample time on Ellis and Tom’s “class” struggle to gain the love of Clara, as well as the relationship that Sandy and Mr. Delamere share during the murder mystery segment. To clarify let us first give some background information on the nature of the Wilmington Riots. Also known as the Wilmington Insurrection and the more politically correct name, the Wilmington Massacre, the event was put into motion on November 10th, 1898. In the weeks before the tragic event there was a rebellious movement that had begun to grow, spread, and prepare for the town’s eventual takeover. One of the reasons the rebellion started was probably due to the fact that the local government was being run by African Americans and that fact alone gave many former Confederate sympathizers a “valid reason” to overthrow the government. Despite the town trying to keep itself in a peaceful state all was not well as Alfred Moore Waddell, a former Confederate officer and a white supremacist, led a group of white men to force the resignation of Wilmington’s city officials. Waddell had used a recently published article by the local black newspaper, the Wilmington Daily Record, to incite the white populace into taking over the city. The article, published by the African-American Alex Manly, stated that, “our experiences among poor white people in the country teaches us that women of that race are not any more particular in the matter of clandestine meetings with colored men than the white men with the colored women.” Two days after that piece was released a mob of 500 white men led by Waddell surrounded the Daily Record and then proceeded to burn the building down with anyone inside. Alex Manly was able to escape the brutal carnage but that did stop the fact that Waddell’s insurrectionists had killed at least 14 people . The Insurrectionists were able to drive out the majority of the black population which forced them to seek safety and shelter in the form of their cemetery. The group of 500 white men seemed to have came together from various social classes, somehow managing to put aside their personal grudges to unify under a single purpose, even if that purpose was overthrowing the government. The same compromise cannot be said about the two bachelors involved in the love triangle however. The love triangle in The Marrow of Tradition seems like your typical run of the mill romance plot but it has the added bonus of having our competing bachelors representing two very distinct social classes in American southern society. Ellis was the nice, gentle white man who would earn his paycheck through his hard work at Major Carteret’s newspaper. The book described him as, “a tall, loose-limbed young man, with a slightly freckled face, hair verging on auburn, a firm chin, and honest gray eyes” (Chesnutt 9). This description paints Ellis as the new white social class, the working white, as he grows and attempts to find his place in the world which was previously dominated by the “old money” class (plantations, slavery, strong family name, honor, etc.). Ellis is observant of his competition as he wants to be better than him in some way, as shown when he, “covered him with a jealous glance” (Chesnutt 9). His love rival is Tom Delamere, someone who appears to be a spoiled, stuck up, fancy, self-centered rich kid who has a powerful family name to grant him credibility. Chesnutt describes Tom as, “slender and of medium height… symmetrical face… black eyes… curly hair of raven tint… fashionable attire…” (Chesnutt 9). Tom represents the old money social class of the south. This social class was rooted in its family names that stretched back to the nation’s founding and were built upon by slave labor and large plantations. We see that Tom and Ellis essentially juxtapose each other, both being similar in terms of who they love and skin color but differing based around what their backgrounds are. Despite the emergence of a new middle class populated by up and coming poor whites, the old money social class was not too worried as they saw themselves as superior. Chesnutt shows us this on page 61 through the use of sentences such as, “Ellis was such a solemn prig… that it was a pleasure to see him sit around sighing for the unobtainable.” and “That he Tom should be giving pain to Ellis added a certain zest to his enjoyment.” The new class was so premature, so small and weak that they seemed to stand no chance against the old money aristocracy of the established social hierarchy. As we see later on in the story however, Tom, and by extension the old money class, would begin to see Ellis (middle class whites) as a form of equal competition, having “underestimated the strength of this rivalry and its chances of success” (Chesnutt 61). Even without having the resources needed to take Tom head on, Ellis was smart enough to find different ways of fighting his rival like by having his ear to the ground for any information and having a good eye for small details. This also helped him pick out the mysterious man who had been following Sandy late at night, although he didn’t give that much thought at the time until after someone had been killed. The murder mystery plotline has a really weird ending in that the audience gets a clear direction in where it is going but gets dropped after Tom is said to be let off the hook for his bad behavior. The fact that he killed the old lady, stole some of her high priced jewelry, and tried to blame his grandfather’s assistant is just swept under the rug since Chesnutt needed to get the riot plotline rolling again. Tom ends up escaping his prison time because the town wants to forget about the whole thing, old man Delamere dies a peaceful death, Sandy’s services are bought up by General Bellmont, and all three fade away from the story just as the third act ends. However, it is what happens during the plotline between Sandy and Mr. Delamere that justify its inclusion to the story. After being told of Sandy’s arrest by Dr. Miller, Mr. Delamere exclaimed phrases such as, “I raised that boy!” and “No negro raised by a Delamere would ever commit such a crime” (Chesnutt 130). Despite at first sounding like a bit of a racist old man we start to see that Mr. Delamere genuinely cares for Sandy and considers him to be somewhat like family. Mr. Delamere even goes as far to say that he would believe his own grandson could commit such a crime as opposed to Sandy, which is ironic given the situation actually happened in that specific way. It seems like Chesnutt was fond of dramatic irony when it came to something as serious as death. Mr. Delamere’s relationship with Sandy is based around how long they’ve known each other as Delamere says that, “Sandy is truthful and can be believed. I would take Sandy’s word as quickly as another man’s oath” (Chesnutt 130). This is suppose to be an old, respected aristocrat whose family name was built upon plantation labor in the days of old and yet even when there is no hope of Sandy being set free, Mr. Delamere is willing to put his name and honor out there in the open for Sandy’s innocence. Delamere’s dialogue in the jail with Sandy includes him calling Sandy “… a good servant and a good friend” and saying that, “when I am gone, which will not be long, Tom will take care of you, and see that you never want” (Chesnutt 135). This is a time when race relations between whites and blacks are starting to break down, revolutions are being planned, and the future of African Americans is on the line. Despite all that an old white man is willing to defend a black man, a man he considers to be a close friend and a part of his family.Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition is considered a landmark in the history of African American fiction as well as one of the first literary challenges to racial stereotypes. While some critics such as Rachel A. Wise see the novel’s dropped plotlines as only a way to show the rise of the white, working middle class I believe it holds a deeper message: to bring numerous readers from various backgrounds together in order to show us that we are all equal to each other. This novel seems to be very similar to Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson as both stories had characters that juxtaposed each other throughout the novels (Tom and Chambers/ Tom and Ellis) and both stories seem to have a hidden message embedded within them based around the social strife African Americans were experiencing in the late nineteenth century. To think that a dropped love triangle and lackluster murder mystery ending could be a clever way to talk about social injustice. Perhaps Chesnutt was onto something when he wanted us to not focus on where we came from but rather where we would go. As Victor Sullivan from the Uncharted series once said, “Here’s the thing, kid: We don’t get to choose how we start in this life. Real ‘greatness’ is what you do with the hand you’re dealt.”