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Sight and reality in Chestnutt’s “The Conjure Woman”

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Charles W. Chestnutt's The Conjure Woman.
    1. The main theme of sight and its relationship to representation and reality.
    2. Chestnutt's collection of tales.
  3. Representations of reality and subjective reality.
    1. Subjective realities - personal interpretations of reality.
    2. 'The Conjure's Revenge' - attacks on other areas of John and Annie's subjective realities.
    3. The levels of misrepresentation and condescension in regards to Julius' character.
    4. Annie's response to 'The Conjure's Revenge'.
  4. Mars Jeems's loss of his entire identity.
  5. The notion of the realm of thought corrupting the purity of sensation.
  6. Conclusion.

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. [...]

[...] In essence, all individuals would be liars and deceivers, taking an immaculate reality and twisting it according to their own machinations. While many characters do this to a certain extent, it is done with a certain kind of conscious understanding. John misinterprets Julius' nature because it allows him to maintain his idealized view of the master-servant relationship. Annie attacks Conjure's Revenge? because it challenges her position as a superior individual. They see the actions of another and distort them to fit their schemes. [...]

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