C. W. Chesnutt: The House Behind the Cedars

(2380 words)

Charles Chesnutt published his first novel, The House Behind the Cedars, in 1900. It takes place “a few years after the Civil War”, tracing the lives of John Warwick and his sister, Rena—two light-skinned blacks who pass for white in the deep South (1). The white world appears to offer limitless possibility for the siblings. Warwick becomes a lawyer and Rena becomes engaged to George Tryon, a white aristocrat who seems to offer a love that is sincere and redemptive. But when Tryon discovers Rena’s racial history, tragedy ensues, and what appeared to be a land of opportunity becomes the site of tyranny and sadness.

As it portrays the complexities of a shifting racial system that is paradoxically both …

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Ritzenberg, Aaron. "The House Behind the Cedars". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 07 July 2012
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=516, accessed 02 July 2015.]

Related Groups

  1. African American Fiction
  2. Literature of the American South