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date: 23 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Published within a year of one another, Thomas Dixon’s The Leopard’s Spots (1902) and Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901) both deal with the bloody Wilmington uprising of 1898. Without addressing one another directly, these two novels emerge from a southern literature steeped in nostalgic myth to engage in a focused debate on race, truth, language, and the future of America. It is a vexing debate that never was, a conversation undermined by Dixon’s staunch refusal to engage the kinds of questions Chesnutt poses. While Dixon appeals to the heart and the gut with a style steeped in preacherly oration, Chesnutt raises more cerebral and complex questions about the very nature of race itself. Taken together, the novels reveal not only a series of fundamental disagreements about race, violence, justice, and language, but also, subsuming all else, fundamentally and essentially different understandings of the nature of truth.

Keywords: Thomas Dixon, Charles Chesnutt, Wilmington, NC, The Leopard's Spots, The Marrow of Tradition, race, ideology, truth, language, white supremacy

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