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17 - Charles Chesnutt, The Colonel’s Dream, and The Futures of Cotton

from Part II - Worlds Made and Remade

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2022

Kathleen Diffley
Affiliation:
University of Iowa
Coleman Hutchison
Affiliation:
University of Texas, Austin
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Summary

While not as financially or critically successful as his previous novels, Charles Chesnutt’s 1905 novel The Colonel’s Dream is an important, though understudied, contribution to a vein of black anti-capitalist thought emergent in the post-Reconstruction era. The story of a former Confederate soldier’s failed endeavor to buy a dilapidated cotton mill and introduce economically and racially progressive labor practices, the novel explores how the post-slavery afterlife of the cotton commodity continued to contribute to Black subjugation in the south. In the end, The Colonel’s Dream asks us to consider whether the fallout of racial capitalism can be remedied by introducing more “humane” capitalist practices, or whether capitalism will always proceed on the same, ruinous route it has historically followed.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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