Charles W. Chestnutt?S The Conjure Woman Essay, Research Paper
The Conjure Woman
The first half of Charles W. Chestnutt’s The Conjure Woman begins with the interaction between a Northern white male and the conventional portrayal of a slave. In the novel an old ex-plantation slave, Julius, recounts stories that he says he heard as a child. The audience of the stories is the white Northern male, who is the narrator of the story, and his sickly wife, Annie. The stories are told for many purposes but my favorite reason behind the telling of the tales is Julius’ attempt and in most cases achievement to acquire several things by this sly action.
From the time that Julian the slave meets John, the Northerner and narrator, the stories begin to roll off his tongue. Julian sets off immediately telling the couple, John and Annie, that he “would’n ‘vise [them] to buy dis yer ole vimya’d, ‘caze de goopher’s on it yit.” Julian quickly leaps into telling the couple on how the vineyard became “cunj’d” because all the slaves were eating the “scuppernon” the master at the time, “Mars Dugal’ McAdoo” got Aunt Peggy, the “cunjuh” woman, to come “gopher” the field so the slaves could not eat the “scuppernon” any longer. Julian says all this because he actually has “derived a respectable revenue from the product of the neglected grapevines.” Although Julian does not scare off the couple as he wishes and they buy the land John offers him the job of coachman, which had wages equivalent or greater than that of the vineyard.
One of the stories where Julius is able to get something he desires is the one of “Po’ Sandy.” The drastic love story and conjuring magic are just enough to distract the couple from perceiving what is occurring. Julian tells of how two slaves are in love with one another, Sandy and Tenie, but Sandy is passed around to different plantations because of his great work. Tenie decides that to keep them together she can turn him into a tree. He becomes a tree but one day Tenie is away in town taking care of someone and the tree is cut down to make the past owner’s wife. The rumor began that one is able to hear moans from the lumber in the newly built kitchen. It ends up that Tenie dies on the floor of the kitchen and the narrator, John, believes that the story is unbelievable while Annie seems to be worried about the outcome of the black couples love. The whole story is initiated with the narrator saying he is going to make the old schoolyard into the kitchen. Julian then chimes in that it is a bad idea because it is haunted and then it shows immediately following the story Julian is holding church meetings in the supposed haunted schoolhouse that no one should be alone in. Julian, by telling the story about the old school house, changes Annie’s mind and gets his way.
Another story that Julian tells that results in him getting his own way is the mule and horse story. Julian attempts to convince John, the narrator, that the mule is too human like and tells him the story of Primus being conjured upon by the small conjure man. Anyways the reason behind the insertion of this story is for Julian to sneakily benefit from it while Jon and Annie think that the story is completely ridiculous. Julian asks John nonchalantly if he would like to see a horse because he knows the man who is selling it. I n reality this is a trick to buy a useless horse that dies within weeks. Julian is said to be seen in brand new Sunday clothes and there is no way that he could have purchased them so it is obvious that he received clothes from the deal he struck up with the man selling the horse.
The events discussed above only touch briefly on reason for telling of these stories, but I found it interesting that Julius always profits by telling the stories. In Charles W. Chesnutt’s The Conjurer Woman Julius seems very similar to the Brer Rabbit in Uncle Remus in the fact that both are cunning and sneaky to get things to go their way.