Sunday, June 6, 2010

Book Challenge Update: Calpurnia Tate

I'd seen a few discussions of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate prior to reading this book. It's slightly controversial because of its use of the terms quadroon and octoroon.

I do agree with Laurie that seeing quadroon on the second page of the book was surprising, and it didn't seem necessary there. The words are presumably used to provide cultural context for 1899 Texas. Octoroon seems more in context in the following passage, and quadroon might have fit in better here. Viola, by the way, is the family's cook.
Viola's skin was no darker than mine at the end of summer, although she was careful to stay out of the sun, while I didn't care. She was only one fourth Negro, but that made her the same as full- blooded. I guess she could have "passed" in Austin, but that was a terribly risky business. If the passer was unmasked, it could result in a beating or jail or even worse. An octoroon woman in Bastrop had passed and married a white farmer. Three years later, he discovered her birth certificate in a trunk and pitch-forked her to death. He only served ten months in the county jail.
Was either term necessary? Maybe not. But it does help paint a picture of the time Calpurnia lived in, which placed limits on people of color as well as on girls and women. And Calpurnia's story is about how she deals with those limits. Calpurnia is interested in (and talented in) Science, not in the housewifely arts she is expected to learn. And she doesn't really come to any resolution about this -- at the end of the story, we're still left with her parents expecting her to be like other girls, and Calpurnia not liking this. But Calpurnia's grandfather encourages her and teaches her, so perhaps there is hope for her. I'd like to see a sequel.

Since last post: Reading time, 2 hours, 45 minutes. Blogging time: 15 minutes.

Total accumulated time: 9 hours, 40 minutes.

1 comment:

Debbie Reese said...

Does the discussion include the word "injun"? I wrote about it in this post: