Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


The outer frame of “A Victim of Heredity, or, Why the Darkey Loves Chicken” begins after John catches a chicken thief in the act. He and Annie later learn that captive man, Sam Jones stole the chicken in an effort to feed his family. At the story's end, Annie takes it upon her self to free him, telling John: "I've been thinking more or less about the influence of heredity and environment, and the degree of our responsibility for the things we do, and while I have not been able to get everything reasoned out, I think I can trust my intuitions."

Throughout the tales, Annie is often presented as a sympathetic listener whose decisions are often influenced the morals of Julius's tales. In this story, the insight she gains from Julius leads her to discount any notion that can be "charge[d] upon a whole race." This sentiment reflects W.E.B. Du Bois's account in The Souls of Black Folk (1903)* of Black criminality at the turn of the century: 

"Now a rising group of people are not lifted bodily from the ground like an inert solid mass, but rather stretch upward like a living plant with its roots still clinging in the mould. The appearance, therefore, of the Negro criminal was a phenomenon to be awaited; and while it causes anxiety, it should not occasion surprise.

Here again the hope for the future depended peculiarly on careful and delicate dealing with these criminals. Their offences at first were those of laziness, carelessness, and impulse, rather than of malignity or ungoverned viciousness. Such misdemeanors needed discriminating treatment, firm but reformatory, with no hint of injustice, and full proof of guilt. For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination" (178).


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