Friday, January 15, 2010

The Bouquet

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932)
From Charles W. Chesnutt: Stories, Novels, and Essays

Through his novels and stories, Charles Chesnutt spoke out against disfranchisement, lynching, and the legal underpinnings of segregation, and he often tackled the twin issues of miscegenation and "passing” by featuring characters who, in fact or deed, blurred the irregular boundaries between white and black. He also depicted the hopes and dreams of those freed after the Civil War: “The chattel aspired to own property; the slave, forbidden learning, to educate his children,” as he wrote in his story “The Doll.” This esteem for education is at the center of “The Bouquet” (1899), in which a young girl struggles against the obstacles imposed by a racially divided society to fulfill the wish of a venerated white schoolteacher.

Mary Myrover’s friends were somewhat surprised when she began to teach a colored school. Miss Myrover’s friends are mentioned here, because nowhere more than in a Southern town is public opinion a force which cannot be lightly contravened. Public opinion, however, did not oppose Miss Myrover’s teaching colored children; in fact, all the colored public schools in town—and there were several—were taught by white teachers, and had been so taught since the State had undertaken to provide free public instruction for all children within its boundaries. Previous to that time, there had been a Freedman’s Bureau school and a Presbyterian missionary school, but these had been withdrawn when the need for them became less pressing. The colored people of the town had been for some time agitating their right to teach their own schools, but as yet the claim had not been conceded.

The reason Miss Myrover’s course created some surprise was not, therefore, the fact that a Southern white woman should teach a colored school; it lay in the fact that up to this time no woman of just her quality had taken up such work. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!


Anonymous said...

This is a service I will enjoy for a long time. Thank-you, so much, for being here!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story, this is why I love reading Chestnutt and consider him (along with the many other 'local colorist' of his day), a master storyteller.

Thank you for posting this.

Andrea Stillman said...

I have never heard of or read Chestnutt before but thoroughly enjoyed the story posted as well as the selections from hnis journals and the discussion of his life and work.