In the novel, The Marrow of Tradition by Charles W. Chesnutt, it seems like vengeance is viewed differently through the lens of different characters. For example, the vengeance that Josh Green seeks upon Captain McBane, which is murdering him because of a past incident, and the vengeance that the whites of Wellington seek through lynching are not necessarily described as thoughts of vengeance. The novel does not necessarily state that there is a similar idea behind the concept vengeance between both situations.
But, if we overlook these situations, one can argue that Chesnutt is trying to prove that there is not a difference between both situations because they both try to solve a problem through violence which results in a cycle of vengeance that is rising due to the feelings that are repressed. As a result of a cycle of vengeance, we can see how it affects the way society functions by creating a color line between two races or people in the novel. Furthermore, they both situations work outside of the law. Josh Green’s motive was to kill Captain McBane for all the pain that McBane caused him and his family, both emotionally and mentally.
When Josh Green witnessed his father get murdered by White Supremacist, anger grew within him and the thought of vengeance towards McBane rose. Josh claims, “an’ seen the whole thing, an’ it wuz branded on my mem’ry, shu, like a red-hot iron bran’s de skin. ” (111) even though he was only ten years old. Since Josh was an African American, he couldn’t relate to what it felt like to be a white person. Furthermore, he did not understand the ideologies that the white supremacist had. After that tragic moment in his life that mentally wrecked him, the only thing that Josh Green lived for was for vengeance against McBane. He even says “… n’l swo’ den, ‘way down deep in my hea’t, little ez I wuz, dat some day er ‘nother I’d kill dat man. ” (111).
Vengeance was the solution to McBane’s actions although vengeance only brought violence. The feelings of anger and despair that he felt inside only pushed him to distinguish a color line between African Americans and Whites. Doctor Miller claimed that “The negroes were not a vindictive people” but regardless of someone’s skin tone, when they are hit where it hurts the most, the pain that they feel can cause them to seek vengeance (112). Josh’s pain and anger caused him to see between the African American’s and white people.
He distinguished a color line that rose though his desires for vengeance which often was accompanied with violence. The color line between the African Americans and the Whites seemed thick. The whites were portrayed as the superior race while the African American’s were portrayed as inferior. Furthermore, through Josh’s perspective, the African Americans were not able to ever become as superior as the whites were. Josh claims that “If a nigger gits a’ office, er de race ‘pears ter be prosperin’ too much, de w’ite folks up an’ kills a few, so dat de res’ kin keep on fergivin’ an’ bein’ thankful dat dey’re lef alive (113).
Even if they try to become as superior as the whites, they always end up finding a way to make the African American’s grow fear towards whites and to make them feel like less. In addition, the white supremacist knew how vulnerable African Americans could be which gave them an advantage. Once they figured out how to make the African Americans more vulnerable, it gave them an advantage and made the whites appear more superior to them. Miller claim that the Ku-KluxKlan “began to amuse young white men by playing upon the fears and superstition of ignorant negroes” (112).
The whites gained pleasure and amusement by harassing the African Americans and making them feel more vulnerable than they already appeared to be. Due to African Americans’ vulnerabilities, they were also treated unequally by laws for example, like the lynching law. The lynching law was used against African Americans but not against white people although it was illegal. Josh Green argues that since Sandy “committed a crime, – really because he is a negro, for if he were white he would not be lynched” (191). They want to lynch Sandy because he was African American but if he were white, lynching would not have even been suggested.
For white supremacist, lynching was a way of vengeance against the African Americans in Wilmington. Lynching is wrong, inhumane and unlawful they it was still often practiced on African Americans. Although many people don’t approve of lynching, there was a dilemma in the novel. They wanted to call a militia to come recuse Sandy from being lynched but the people in the militia are white supremacist so it wouldn’t make a difference. Sandy was ultimately still going to remain in the hands of the white supremacists. Due to the militia being full of white supremacist, a color line was distinguished between the African Americans and the whites.
Watson argues that “When the color line is drawn, if they choose to stand together with the rest of their race against us, or to remain passive and let the others work their will, we are helpless- our cause is hopeless” (191). Even though lynching is unlawful and if the African Americans unite, they will still be affected by the color line between the African Americans and whites, that is created due to lynching. Furthermore, lynching can be an idea that can be mentally and emotionally hard to understand. It creates segregation between two races and causes vengeance to cycle.
The idea of lynching is very similar to the idea of the segregation. The logic that leads to Lynching is the same logic that leads to the logic of the color line. Many people don’t approve of lynching but other people agree with the idea of segregation. The color line is helpful when it comes to distinguishing some cases of segregation. Judge Everton claims that, “… laws were made, after all, to express the will of the people... ” (192). The will of the people in Wilmington was to get rid of the African Americans or to stay segregated from them.
When Everton talked about the will of the people, he was refereeing primarily to the white population, the African Americans didn’t have a say in law enforcement. For example, it was difficult for the authorities to believe that Sandy wasn’t the murderer. The fact that Sandy was African American made it easier for them to believe that Sandy was the one who committed the crime. It took white noble gentlemen, Mr. Delamere, to speak up on behave of Sandy and against his grandson, in order for the white supremacists to believe it really wasn’t Sandy who committed the crime.
But when Josh Green was trying to do his best in trying to save Sandy from getting lynched, he was often times discouraged from doing so. This was because the African Americans were viewed as bad people, there was this negative prejudice that revolved around them. Miller like Josh, was trying to save Sandy but he was also often discouraged from trying to do so as well. The vengeance of the white people against the African Americans in Wilmington was a harsh one. African Americans were not able to rise to the level of the whites because of the prejudice that surrounded them.
The way African Americans were treated because of the whites seeking vengeance, brought a lot of violence. Vengeance will always bring violence, for example like lynching. Lynching is a violent process that was illegal; furthermore, it might bring joy to the whites but to the African Americans it brings fear and emotional pain. In addition, that emotional pain and fear will rise anger in African Americans. The vengeance that was once coming from the whites will reverse and could be going towards the whites from the African Americans.
Vengeance will create a cycle of fear, pain, anger, that can seem never ending. Once someone feels like they have obtained the vengeance they were seeking, their counterpart could potentially seek vengeance back on them. This is a reason why I personally believe that the color line between African Americans and whites in the novel was so thick. Once whites obtained the vengeance that they were seeking through lynching, the African Americans repelled and were driven by their inner feelings just like Josh Green was driven. Chesnutt says, “they that do violence must expect to suffer violence” (309).
The African Americans were coming together to repel against the white people. During that dispute Josh Green obtained what he was living for, which was to kill McBane. Taking McBane’s life brought Josh Green closure, it was mentioned that “When the crowed dashed forward to wreak vengeance on his dead body, they found him with a smile upon his face. ” (309). When he died with happiness within him because he had killed the person who brought so much pain to his family and him. By Green killing McBane, anger rose within the whites.
They desired vengeance on the “Negroes”, continuing a cycle of violence and thickening the color line between the African Americans and the whites. Vengeance momentarily brought closure and happiness but it for the people on the other side it only made them erode with anger. But, if this cycle of vengeance only continues and doesn’t end, then there isn’t full closure for people. Both situations of vengeance, brought violence upon people and didn’t bring anything to an end. Lynching brought emotional pain to the African Americans and discouraged them from trying to become more superior in society.
Both situations were illegal and for the most part healed one side but hurt another side. The side that was hurt then chose to seek vengeance on the opposing side, creating a cycle. The cycle led to a color line that encouraged people to isolate themselves from other races which created a color line in society. That made the gap between the two races difficult to close which led to segregation between the two races. Like the Old Testament said “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, vengeance”. Vengeance just led to more vengeance and a color line, it didn’t heal anything.