Thursday, June 17, 2010

On "The Conjure Woman" by Charles W. Chesnutt ****

The Conjure Woman is a curious book of seemingly similar tales, involving an old former slave named Julius McAdoo and his white Yankee turned southern employers. Each tale is placed within a frame. The Yankee has some scheme he asks McAdoo about or some delay in the day's program that McAdoo fills with a story to entertain or instruct. McAdoo's tale then takes off, and in each a conjure woman figures greatly. Each story also benefits McAdoo in some way. When the employer decides to tear down an old schoolhouse to build a new kitchen, McAdoo tells a story about a man who gets turned into lumber. The husband doesn't believe the tale, but often his soft-hearted wife is snookered, either by the tale or by McAdoo's overall conniving, and things like schoolhouses remain so that McAdoo's church can meet in it. The tales quickly become formulaic and predictable, and the use of dialect Chesnutt employs has fallen out of fashion (indeed, it's irritating at points trying to figure out what McAdoo is saying), but overall the book still, over one hundred years later is entertaining. Download the book here at Project Gutenberg.

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