Plantation Tradition in Local Color Fiction
The term "plantation tradition" applies to works that look back nostalgically to the times before the Civil War, before the "Lost Cause" of the Southern Confederacy was lost, as a time when an idealized, well-ordered agrarian world and its people held certain values in common, among them chivalry toward women, courage, integrity, and honorable conduct among gentlemen, and pride in and loyalty toward one's region. Works in this tradition employed the metaphor of a plantation "family" with white and African American members, all of whom felt deep bonds of loyalty to one another, with the white master as the head of this patriarchal system. In keeping with its hierarchical ideals, stories of this tradition frequently portrayed African Americans as happier and better off under slavery than they would be (or, later, were) if they were free. Within this system exists the racist stereotype of the "happy darky."
George Tucker, The Valley of the Shenandoah (1824)John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870), The Swallow Barn (1832), although he later supported the Union cause during the Civil War in Mr. Ambrose's Letters on the Rebellion (1865).Caroline Lee Hentz (1800-1856), Linda; or the Young Pilot of the Belle Creole. A Tale of Southern Life (1850);The Planter's Northern Bride(1857).Late Nineteenth CenturyThomas Nelson Page (1853-1922), In Ole Virginia, or Marse Chan and Other Stories. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895 . See especially "Marse Chan," a story frequently anthologized, and Social Life in Old Virginia before the War (1887)Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings (1881) and several other collections of Uncle Remus stories. The frame stories--an elderly African-American narrator telling tales to a young white boy--recall the plantation tradition, but the tales themselves, which are based on black folktales, are frequently subversive of the tradition. Harris's "Free Joe and the Rest of the World" is a clear example of this tradition.Thomas Dixon (1864-1946). The best-known examples of his more than twenty novels-- The Leopard's Spots (1902), The Clansman (1905), andThe Traitor (1907)--represent his racist and extremely conservative political views; the middle volume of this trilogy, The Clansman, is the basis for D. W. Griffith's 1915 epic motion picture The Birth of a Nation.James Battle Avirett, The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin Before the War (1901; memoir)