When reading about Charles W. Chesnutt and much of his writings, it became evident that his style differed from most of the black authors who wrote in his time. Then when reading his first published story, “The Goophered Grapevine,” I came to understand exactly what they were talking about. Most of what I focused on was the language that Chesnutt used and how he was able to use it as a transition for the reader and to possibly give them a better visual of what is being told as well as maybe even understand.
At first it’s a simple story about an unnamed man and his wife Annie, who is sick at the beginning of the story we are being told. Most of what is read is no different from our everyday readings until we get to the flashback of when they were contemplating on whether to buy the house or not and they “wandered off into the adjoining vineyard…” where they found a peculiar looking black man sitting on a log. Here we are told, “…I dunno whe’r you b’lieves in conj’im er not – some er de w’ite folks don’t, er says dey don’t – but de truf er de matter is dat dis yer ole vimya’d is goophered.” From this point on we venture into the story about how the vineyard that rests on the property is “goophered,” or “conju’d, bewitch’.” Right here is where the reader hits a transition that we feel we have been taken back to before the Civil War, where the uneducated could have easily sounded this way.
In this transition, we got from the previously mentioned everyday text to what could be easily, if listened to aloud, heard as a very similar portrayal of how an uneducated negro may have talked at that time. By reading this somewhat difficult and choppy text, it gives us a slight feeling of actually being there, actually being transferred to this time period. For seven and a half pages long, there is no break in this barely understandable gibberish. Another possible intent of the author for making it this way was for the reader to slow down and allow the story to sink in and actually understand the text as a whole.
Throughout the story, it comes to me that someone is actually telling the story. By that I mean that this unnamed man is telling this lonely negro’s story and while he’s telling it, he does not differ from how he heard it. Whether it is actually Chesnutt himself telling this to us or not, I feel that another way at reading this maybe at a critical standpoint. We have this educated man and wife listening to this uneducated man tell them a story about superstitions and a slight warding away from this land. Another idea that can go into this uncomfortable text is that it makes us feel just that, uncomfortable. With the reason for his story is to keep these people from buying the house and land, the author/storyteller maybe tries to parallel the two, the uncomfortable feeling of superstitions, to give a better feel for the reader.
When we get to the end of this difficult talking, we go back to a more comfortable text and to where we are told that the couple do not take the black man’s advise and they buy the property anyway. As a whole, I feel that the transition and use of language in the pieces is not only different but that it helps the reader out in major ways, even if it slows you down. It allows us to go back in time with the storyteller, understand the level of grammar and conversation some are only capable of, slow down and understand the story instead of rushing through, and the way the author uses the uncomfortableness of it all to maybe even emphasize the superstitious belief that most black people of that time had. Over all, I come to think about whether if this piece were told in a modern text throughout, such as the beginning to end, and if it were able to have the same effect as it does written how it is now. Personally, I do not think that it would have had the same effect as the piece stands as a unique and interesting story told through a clever storyteller.
Chesnutt, Charles W., “The Goophered Grapevine.” An Anthology of American Negro Literature. New York: The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., 1944.