The collection of stories that make up The Conjure Woman is most often categorized (and rightly so) as a giant leap forward in African-American literature. Such a categorization makes sense if the stories are approached only from the perspective of the racial makeup of the characters. From another perspective, placing such limitations upon unifying narrative aspects of the story makes about as much sense as limiting analysis of the stories of Jane Austen feminist topics or pointing to a collection of Poe’s short stories as a brilliant example of the literature of white society.
Perhaps the time has come to really give Chesnutt his due by focusing on his writing rather than on his color. When viewed through this more expansive prism, it is clear that The Conjure Woman may a foundation moment in African-American literature, but also a masterful addition to the lineage of Gothic fiction. Consider the following standard Gothic conventions to be found in these stories: sorcery, ghosts, tricksters, witches and voodoo. Not to mention the killing of a cat, people turning into trees and back again, and even a Fountain of Youth.
In the long and varied history of Gothic literature in a signature American style, few collections of stories cover so many of the bases in such a unique and idiosyncratic manner as those stories Charles W. Chesnutt penned for inclusion in The Conjure Woman. It’s about time that this element of authorship was recognized and attributed with the same robust recognition as the fact that the color of the skin of his characters happens to be black.