Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


The Norton Critical Edition of The Conjure Stories provides a brief background on the Market House described at the beginning of the story as based on "an actual structure, built in 1832, that still stands at the central intersection of the town of Fayetteville. . . . The clock and belfry of the Market House-which, as Chesnutt notes, tolled a daily schedule as well as the nightly curfew-both united the schedule of the community and enforced the policing of the enslaved people of the area" (165). 

In the opening pages of his first novel, The House Behind the Cedars (1900),* Chesnutt describes the town of Patesville, a fictionalized version of Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he came of age. Through the eyes of John Warwick, Chesnutt describes one's approach to the Market House:

“A two minutes' walk brought Warwick - the name he had registered under, and as we shall call him - to the market-house, the central feature of Patesville, from both the commercial and the picturesque points of view. Standing foursquare in the heart of the town, at the intersection of the two main streets, a jog at each street corner left around the market-house a little public square, which at this hour was well occupied by carts and wagons from the country and empty drays awaiting hire. Warwick was unable to perceive much change in the market-house. Perhaps the surface of the red brick, long unpainted, had scaled off a little more here and there. There might have been a slight accretion of the moss and lichen on the shingled roof. But the tall tower, with its four-faced clock, rose as majestically and uncompromisingly as though the land had never been subjugated. Was it so irreconcilable, Warwick wondered, as still to peal out the curfew bell, which at nine o'clock at night had clamorously warned all negroes, slave or free, that it was unlawful for them to be abroad after that hour, under penalty of imprisonment or whipping? Was the old constable, whose chief business it had been to ring the bell, still alive and exercising the functions of his office, and had age lessened or increased the number of times" (3).

The inhabitants of Patesville embody the "sabbatic . . . restfulness" that the narrator observes in the "Goophered Grapevine." In one scene, the townspeople are even described as "somnambulists":

"They found Judge Straight in his office. He was seated by the rear window, and had fallen into a gentle doze - the air of Patesville was conducive to slumber. A visitor from some bustling city might have rubbed his eyes, on any but a market-day, and imagined the whole town asleep - that the people were somnambulists and did not know it. The judge, an old hand, roused himself so skillfully, at the sound of approaching footsteps, that his visitors could not guess but that he had been wide awake. He shook hands with the doctor, and acknowledged the introduction to Tryon with a rare old-fashioned courtesy, which the young man thought a very charming survival of the manners of a past and happier age" (110).


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