Monday, February 22, 2010

Daddy, Sister shot me!

The Sheriff's Children is a short story, by Charles Chesnutt, about the south after the civil war. The story focuses on Branson County, a small rural community. During a time when communication took days to reach in or out, many small towns were secluded from the rest of the world and formed their own mentality and culture. Branson County was no exception. As Chessnut describes it, "The fierce tide of war that had rushed through the cities and along the greate highways of the country had ... but slightly disturbed the sluggish current of life in [Branson County]." This seclusion allows Branson County and Troy, the town that our story focuses on, to become a breath of the united states; a still image or moment in time of the United States before the war.

As a result of this preservation of Troy, all of the ideas for the time, as well as the social undercurrents, remain untouched. That said, while the African American's are fighting in the United States to up-heave the racial barrier imposed upon them, Troy continues to impose the racial segregation of the old US; no less and no more than before. These details allow our story to stress the barriers that were in place, and that still were in place in 1899, 34 years after the civil war ended.

There are several ideals that are solidified in Troy. One of these ideals is the pride of the white
man. This is illustrated within the Sheriff. The sheriff is first introduced while he is having

"[a] Tall, muscular man, of a ruddier complexion than is usual among Southerners. A pair of keen, deep-set gray eyes looked out from under bushy eyebrows, and about his mouth was
a masterful expression, which a full beard, once sandy in color, but now profusely sprinkled
with gray, could not entirely conceal. ... [he] had his white shirt open at the throat."

The sheriff is first described to be tall, giving him an image of someone to look up to, or someone
who may not view things from the same level as others. He is described to have a ruddy complexion.
This word is described in the dictionary as: "(of the complexion) having a healthy reddish colour, usually resulting from an outdoor life." This implies that the Sheriff spends alot of time outdoors. This could mean that either he spends alot of time out in the village doing hard work, or that he spends alot of time outdoors around the house. Either of these give the impression that the Sheriff is a hard worker, valuing the idea of earning ones living. The keen gray eyes hint that the Sheriff, while older, is still sharp in his age. The full beard, now gray, also points to the toll of time but is unable to conceal his "masterful expression," the look of a man who is experienced.

After listening to the fact that the village was preparing to hang a prisoner, the sheriff changes: "listen[ing] calmly ... his face grey firmer, and a determined gleam lit up his gray eyes. His frame grew more erect, and he unconciously assumed the attitude of a soldier who momentarily expects to meet the enemy face to face."

The Sheriff begins to show a side honed by his position; a man who is strong and ready to fight. His eyes gleam with the pride of one who will carry out his duty, and he grows more stern and resolved to accomplish the job that he is preparing to do. When his daughter urges him not to go to protect the prisoner with his life, he brushes her aside saying that she should not worry. He says "I'll take care of myself and the prisoner, too. There ain't a man in Branson County that would shoot me. Besided, I have faced fire too often to be scared away from my duty." Here the Sheriff displays his sense of duty and his confidence in his position of authority. Believing that he is a man to be revered, and as Sheriff he was, the Sheriff's pride forces him to place himself at risk to carry out his job.

It is stated later that the Sheriff opposed the war and then fought in it before he was handed the position of Sheriff. He was well respected and viewed as the best man for the job. "He had sworn to do his duty faithfully and he knew what his duty was, as sheriff, perhaps more clearly than he had apprehended it in other passages of his life." This suggests that the Sheriff was not always as honorable a man as he should have been. This further strengthens his pride; for he must make up for his wrongs. It is later revealed that a part of this lapse in duty in his past has to do with a mistress; it is revealed that the prisoner is indeed his son.

The Sheriff plays to the crowd once he arrives at the jail. He begins to push the crowd away by stating that the money the prisoner's stay will earn him is important for his family. He also states that they must go through him. It is fairly obvious that our Sheriff is playing to the crowd, as he does not need the money so desperately. He then states that he knows his duty and that he will do it. One of the men in the crowd argues that if the black man continues to harm the white man, he will not have a place in this world. He then states that while he is a white man, he is a sheriff first, clinging to his "duty" and job. This is once again a part of his pride in his job.

Once the prisoner gets a hold of one of the guns, he forces the Sheriff to hold still and threatens to shoot him. He begins contemplating his escape and reasons that he must kill the Sheriff to survive. It is at this point that it is revealed that the prisoner is actually the Sheriff's son. Although the Sheriff has his obligations to a son, he cannot let go of his duty. The son realizes that he must kill the Sheriff or he will die; commenting on the inability for the racial barriers to fall while the pride of the white man stands fixed. In an event of situational irony, the daughter shoots the prisoner and helps her father to survive. Although the son is bandaged, he is dead by morning.

I believe that Chesnutt is commenting on the racial barriers of the south, and the US. He is pointing out that with the pride of the white man, the two cannot properly coexist. Rather, the white man must realize that change was in order to allow for the two to continue to live together in harmony. This change did eventually come.