THE QUARRY by Charles W. Chesnutt


Age Range: 0 - 691
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paper 0-691-05996-9 Like the recently rediscovered Paul Marchand, F.M.C., this novel (completed in 1928) was rejected by publishers because it abandoned the popular style of Chesnutt’s fables, with their Negro dialects, in favor of a straightforward social-problem narrative. Here, Chesnutt (1858—1932) returns to the theme of his second story collection, the issue of mixed racial heritage, arguing both “passing” as white and against black separatism. The narrative centers on the exemplary life of Donald Glover, a foundling of uncertain parentage, who develops into a preeminent man of letters. Along the way, he confronts social and intellectual temptations representative of the challenges facing gifted Negroes in the first quarter of the 20th century. From an early age, when his white adoptive parents discover his black blood and reject him, light- skinned Donald commits himself to the uplift of his race. Raised in Ohio, he moves with his second set of parents to the South, where he experiences segregation for the first time. Byronically handsome, he’s almost tricked into an early marriage but goes off instead to an integrated college in Kentucky that’s eventually segregated by law. At Columbia, where he gets his Ph.D., Donald is tempted by a movie director who promises him a successful career if he—ll pass as white; by a local hustler who schools him in the ways of Harlem life; and by a character representing back-to-Africa proselytizer Marcus Garvey. Later employed by a Booker T. Washington figure, Donald decides that his obligations as a member of the “talented tenth” require loyalty to his true mentor, Dr. Lebrun, who stands in for Chesnutt’s own role model, W.E.B. DuBois. Although it makes an interesting contrast with Wallace Thurman’s recently reprinted Infants of the Spring, which rejects the high- minded race consciousness of older intellectuals like Chesnutt, this formulaic, overly determined novel seldom transcends its obvious plot devices and emblematic characters. However meritorious, strictly for scholars and literary historians.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-05995-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999