Analysis Of Charles Chesnutt 's ' The House Behind The Cedars ' Essay

1436 Words6 Pages
Talia Kaufmann
Literature II
Prof. Logan Esdale
5th October 2016

The Question of Racial Identity

Set at the dawn of the Reconstruction period, a time of supposed national renewal and modernization, Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars exposes the reality of an utterly medieval post Civil War South. Chesnutt explores the role of race in shaping one’s true identity through the experiences of two bi-racial siblings, John and Rena Walden, as they transcend the biological color barrier. Inspired by her older brother 's decade of splendid success living as an apparently pure white man, an existence free of all the restrictions she encounters as a bi-racial individual, Rena agrees to abandon and reject her black identity with devastating consequences. A largely didactic novel, driven by Chesnutt’s motivation to explore the nuances of racial identity in an era in which racial identity was presumed to be a biological certainty, Rena’s character and the devastating conflicts she faces are his vehicle to portray his own deeply personal journey of self identification. The House Behind the Cedars serves as a metaphor for Chesnutt’s own life and the internal struggles he faced as a biracial individual. Chesnutt achieves both a certain omnipresence and intimacy in his writing through the integration of elements of his personal biography into the novel. Much of the novel and its “mulatto” protagonists, Rena and John, are based on Chesnutt’s life as a bi-racial

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