The genealogical landscape, then, that emerges from Chesnutt's stories reveals the interwoven bonds between blacks and whites and their senses of place.

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Michelle Johnson                  Position Paper

English 633

October 3, 2002

        “The southern sense of place,” Barabara Allen asserts, “is constructed, maintained, and articulated in a distinctively regional conversational pattern . . . [in which] the landscape becomes a symbolic . . . complex structure of both kinship networks and landownership patterns” (152-53).  The plot of land or “homeplace” is an “autonomous entity,” where genealogies and class distinctions are vital to its existence.  In “Genealogical Landscape and the Southern Sense of Place,” Allen shows how southern land, particularly rural areas in Kentucky, and its owners (past and present) are inextricably linked, fostering a sense of southern community, conversation, and consciousness.  

Property ownership, Allen maintains, is the structural foundation of genealogical landscape.  Her paradigm—landscape plus kinship plus conversation equals a regional identity—destabilizes, as she acknowledges, once race and class enter the equation.   Yet, Allen further claims that these differences, though they complicate the system, do not “subvert [its] basic structure.” The “tenants,” black and white sharecroppers or farm laborers, exist outside the “kinship network” and relinquish any rights as “full-fledged member[s] of the community” because “there is no way to weave them into the community fabric; they are ghostlike figures who wander nameless and placeless through the social landscape, a class apart” (162-3).  

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 I suggests, however, that blacks in some southern communities were more than intenerate phantom-like laborers.  Using Charles Chesnutt’s, “The Goophered Grapevine” and “Po Sandy,” I submit that Chesnutt’s awareness of the link between black people and their plantation homes, not only subverts the structure of genealogical landscape but also reconstructs it.  

        Uncle Julius, in the larger society is in a class apart, merely because of race.   Nevertheless, in his plantation community in central North Carolina, he is an insider, an insider with an interest in and an acute knowledge of the land.  For instance, all of his “conversations” hinge ...

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