Chesnutt’s Evolving Treatment of the Color Line Through Naturalism

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Chesnutt’s Evolving Treatment of the Color Line Through Naturalism in “A Matter of Principle” and The House Behind the Cedar’s

Charles W. Chesnutt, a well-educated mulatto man, lived his life on ‘the color line.’ Chesnutt’s skin was very light and was sometimes mistaken for a white man. Chesnutt chose to identify himself as a black man, but in his works, his characters move back and forth across the color line and struggle with the world they exist in. The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line was published one year before The House Behind the Cedars and included the short story, “A Matter of Principle,” where Chesnutt clearly begins to explore what options are available to a mulatto man and his family, which will later
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They educate themselves, gain wealth and prominence in their surroundings, emulate and eventually become a part of a certain type of elevated culture. Their associations consist mainly of an exclusive mulatto circle that aspires to be white. Despite John and Mr. Clayton’s feelings that they have been denied their birthright and their inclinations towards being white, the powers that be do not allow their acceptance into white society. A key component of literary naturalism is the idea that the world is a greater force than man and will make man’s determination to exert free will and change his environment futile. No matter their passion to be seen as white, by heredity they are black.

Rena, a mulatto woman, does not feel that she has been denied anything, yet she craves opportunity. Her goals include a refined education, the ability to own nice things and move among prestigious circles, and to begin a family that is honest and loving. Her philosophies distinguish her from John and Clayton. Rena takes the character of Clayton to the next step. Rena values all people, no matter what race formulates their blood. For Rena, advancement should come based on hard work and ethics, not based on race or deception.

Having achieved an education and amassed wealth, the gap between John and Clayton and their respective black communities naturally widened, but each man
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