There has always been a fundamental distinction between reality and how our mind represents reality. What we see and observe (external sight) comes into conflict with what we interpret and feel (internal sight). Charles W. Chestnutt's The Conjure Woman explores the gulf between the eye and the mind; in our effort to discover what is real and true, we must reach a compromise between our representations and our own personal biases. The main theme of sight and its relationship to representation and reality in The Conjure Woman revolves around the concept of trust. Internal perception such as intuition or personal insight, understood by the mind and soul, comes into conflict with vision and physical sight, observed by the eye. Our eye sees one reality; our mind interprets that reality into, naturally, a representation. We have faces, names, voices, and ideologies that are inherited from other sources. Our eyes seem to absorb nature perfectly.
[...] I shall touch on issues of insight later in this paper; for now, we may recognize that John's language indicates that he unconsciously views himself as a master figure and forces this view onto Julius, regardless of the reality of the situation. Likewise, John and Annie's sense of superiority is evident in the last sentence of the quote. Here, rather than attacking Julius' position as an individual, they attack his mind. The phrasing and word choice is so strongly condescending it could be confused with that of a parent talking about a child or a pet. [...]
[...] The answer, it would seem, is discernment and moderation in all things to try and achieve the most comprehensive truth of our surrounds. There is a fundamental difference between the representations individuals have of society and the reality of society. After Annie chastised him for his foolish story, Julius rebuttals with the following anecdote: Dey's so many things a body knows is lies, dat dey ain' no use gwine roun' findin' fault wid tales dat mought des as well be so ez not. [...]
[...] John and Annie's reality is one where they are superior individuals, both in education and class. At one point, John describes him in the following terms: He has become accustomed, until long after middle life, to look upon himself as the property of another. When this relation was no longer possible, owing to the war, and to his master's death, and the dispersion of the family, he had been unable to break off entirely the mental habits of a lifetime, but had attached himself to the old plantation, of which he seemed to consider himself an appurtenance. [...]
[...] The book itself becomes a labyrinth of twists and turns, and it becomes harder and harder to determine what is objective reality and what is our narrator's understanding of that reality. When we speak of representations of reality, we speak of subjective reality, which in itself takes on multiple meanings. The traditional view of ‘subjective' is synonymous with ‘personal.' It is a reality influenced by our own thoughts and feelings, which likewise are an amalgam of inputs we have been bombarded with since birth. [...]
[...] The most obvious example is found in “Mars Jeems's Nightmare.” Because of Mars Jeems's great cruelty, a slave goes to see a conjure woman and asks her to make the master kinder. She changes Jeems into a black man, and he is forced for a few days to live the life of a slave. When Mars Jeems returns to his white form, he fires the cruel overseer and begins to treat his slaves more kindly. Jeems, then, accrues insight which influences his shift in attitude towards his field hands. [...]
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