Discussion questions –Chesnutt
On the surface, Chesnutt’s “The Passing of Grandison” seems to be merely a realistic, although humorous, portrayal of the relationship between a rich, Southern plantation family and black slaves. However, Chesnutt cleverly undermines the supposed “realism” of the story when Grandison returns and re-escapes with his entire family. When the “simple” slave tricks the Colonel, Chesnutt wants us to see that the “realistic” portrayal of southern life is only a deceptive fantasy of gentle masters and happy slaves.
1. From the Colonel’s perspective, name at least 2 traits that describe what slavery “really” is. Find a passage for each trait.
(Hint: The Colonel thinks of himself as a proud and happy father of silly, pitiful, child-like slaves. He thinks his slaves are so happy and grateful to have a great man, like him, to watch over, guide, and protect them. Is this the truth of slavery or just his own imagination?)
2. The theme of deception is also at the core in the relationship between Dick Owens and Grandison. Describe one way Owens deceives either his father and Grandison (1 passage). However, Grandison is even more deceptive not just to the Colonel, but also to Owens. How does Grandison trick Owens and the Colonel (1 passage)? Chesnutt, as the writer, never lets us know what Grandison is thinking throughout the story. Offer an interpretation about why that is the case. (Hint: As you read the story, did Chesnutt trick YOU?)