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The House Behind the Cedars

Charles W. Chesnutt

Book Overview: 

In this, Chesnutt's first novel, he tells the tragic story of love set against a backdrop of racism, miscegenation and “passing” during the period spanning the antebellum and reconstruction eras in American history. And through his use of the vernacular prevalent in the South of that time, Chesnutt lent a compassionate voice to a group that America did not want to hear. More broadly, however, Chesnutt illustrated, in this character play, the vast and perhaps insurmountable debt this country continues to pay for the sins of slavery.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .The judges put their heads together for a moment. The bugle sounded again, and the herald announced in a loud voice that Sir George Tryon, having taken the greatest number of rings and split the largest number of balls, was proclaimed victor in the tournament and entitled to the flowery chaplet of victory.

Tryon, having bowed repeatedly in response to the liberal applause, advanced to the judges' stand and received the trophy from the hands of the chief judge, who exhorted him to wear the garland worthily, and to yield it only to a better man.

"It will be your privilege, Sir George," announced the judge, "as the chief reward of your valor, to select from the assembled beauty of Clarence the lady whom you wish to honor, to whom we will all do homage as the Queen of Love and Beauty."

Tryon took the wreath and bowed his thanks. Then placing the trophy on the point of his lance, he spoke earnestly for a moment to the herald, and rode . . . Read More

Community Reviews

"The law, you said, made us white; but not the law, nor even love, can conquer prejudice." -Rena Walden

The House Behind the Cedars tells the post-Civil War story of two NC siblings John and Rena Walden. Both siblings are very fair skinned Black people who are considered octoroons (1/8 Black and 7/8

The House Behind the Cedars is the story of a brother and sister, John and Rena, who share the misfortune of being one-eighth African American. Their mother is a "quadroon" who was kept by a wealthy white man, but when he died, his will was flawed, so she and the children got no money.

John's white s

4.5 stars. Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars has a fairy tale title and contains elements of the classic fairy tale, including a chivalrous "prince," the breaking of an enchantment (the possibility of Rena living as a white lady), moments of inner recognition or revelation, and even a flight th

Moments in this novel are amazing, especially read from the lens of the 2016 hashtag battle between BlackLivesMatter and AllLivesMatter: "The Southern mind, in discussing abstract questions relative to humanity, makes always, consciously or unconsciously, the mental reservation that the conclusions

The only reason why this work received four stars is because of what I consider a poor ending. This is Chesnutt's first novel, so perhaps the ending is to be forgiven for an author who expanded a short story into a novel. Besides the ending, this book is wonderful. Chesnutt's exquisite prose, comple

A must read in your lifetime. Shines a different perspective on the lives of many. Highly recommended!

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