Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


Julius uses his storytelling to illustrate the universal suffering that slaves underwent within a setting of unrelenting labor and to warn John against replicating the same environment on his post-war plantation. In using Tom to represent a new generation of workers, Chesnutt highlights the dangers in the New South for freed blacks, who, with “no chanst ter l'arn,” cannot escape appropriation by wealthy, white prospectors.
In the outer frame, John begins the story by expressing his disgust for Tom’s work ethic. The purpose of Julius’s telling of “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare,” then, is to covertly coerce John into giving Tom a second chance. After Julius concludes his story of Mars Jeems, he tells John and Annie: “Dis yer tale goes ter show . . . dat w’ite folks w’at is so ha’d en stric’, en doan make no ‘lowance fer po’ ign’ant niggers w’at ain’ had no chanst ter l’arn, is li’ble ter hab bad dreams.” Julius’s final comments correlate the “noo man” with Tom and his post-war generation, made up of men who are neither slaves nor truly free.

In Booker T. Washington's 1899 The Future of the American Negro,* he describes the consequences of stereotypes of laziness for countless black men seeking employment:  

"Not long ago a mother, a black mother, who lived in one of our Northern States, had heard it whispered around in her community for years that the Negro was lazy, shiftless, and would not work. So, when her only boy grew to sufficient size, at considerable expense and great self-sacrifice, she had her boy thoroughly taught the machinist's trade. A job was secured in a neighbouring shop. With dinner bucket in hand and spurred on by the prayers of the now happy-hearted mother, the boy entered the shop to begin his first day's work. What happened? Every one of the twenty white men threw down his tools, and deliberately walked out, swearing that he would not give a black man an opportunity to earn an honest living. Another shop was tried with the same result, and still another, the result ever the same. To-day this once promising, ambitious black man is a wreck,—a confirmed drunkard,—with no hope, no ambition. I ask, Who blasted the life of this young man? On whose hands does his lifeblood rest? The present system of education, or rather want of education, is responsible" (174-5).


This page has tags:

This page is referenced by: