“The Passing of Grandison” is told in the third person and primarily limited to the consciousness of Dick Owens, the cynical and lazy young heir to a large plantation in Kentucky. His desire to win the hand of his lover Charity Lomax leads him on a mission to accomplish something of humanitarian import. Given his character and the contradictions of the South, however, his efforts can have only an ironic result. By analyzing the significance of each character and Chesnutt’s work one can prove that the stories true meaning is some people aren’t loyal to you, they are loyal to their need of you. Once their needs change so does their loyalty.
Dick achieves his goal by going on an excursion toward the North joined by an individual slave. In the beginning, he chooses a slave who he knows will attempt to flee when there’s an open door. The arrangement is confounded by Colonel Owens, who demands that he run with Grandison. The colonel trusts that Grandison is steadfast and abolitionist-verification, that is, insusceptible from the individuals who might tempt him to flee. For sure, the colonel tests Grandison, who guarantees his master that he acknowledges his subordination, is derisive of free African Americans, and fears abolitionists.
Chesnutt uses a double layer of irony at times. Knowing that his readers will be aware of the stories of escaped slaves using the North Star as their guide to freedom, he ironically describes Grandison leaving Canada for Kentucky with the North Star at his back. “One of the scoundrels wanted to kill him, and persuaded the others that it ought to be done; but they got to quarreling about how they should do it, and before they had their minds made up Grandison escaped, and, keeping his back steadily to the North Star, made his way, after suffering incredible hardships, back to the old plantation, back to his master, his friends, and his home” (Chesnutt). At first, this seems to reinforce the idea that Grandison is a model slave who literally turns his back on freedom. At the end of the story, however, it becomes clear that he has thought first of his family and planned for all their happiness even at the risk of losing his own freedom.
Grandison is not the only character guilty of unloyalty, dishonesty, and deception. Dick Owens betrays his father for the love of Charity Lomax; “Well, I ‘m willing to attempt as much as any other man. What do you want me to do, sweetheart? Give me a test.” “Oh, dear me!” said Charity, “I don’t care what you _do_, so you do _something_. Really, come to think of it, why should I care whether you do anything or not?” “I ‘m sure I don’t know why you should, Charity,” rejoined Dick humbly, “for I ‘m aware that I ‘m not worthy of it.” “Except that I do hate,” she added, relenting slightly, “to see a really clever man so utterly lazy and good for nothing.” “Thank you, my dear; a word of praise from you has sharpened my wits already. I have an idea! Will you love me if I run a negro off to Canada?” “What nonsense!” said Charity scornfully. “You must be losing your wits. Steal another man’s slave, indeed, while your father owns a hundred!” “Oh, there ‘ll be no trouble about that,” responded Dick lightly; “I ‘ll run off one of the old man’s; we ‘ve got too many anyway. It may not be quite as difficult as the other man found it, but it will be just as unlawful, and will demonstrate what I am capable of.” (Chesnutt).
Dick betrays his father because his needs changed. He sets proving his heroicness and bravery to Charity Lomax as his number one priority. This indeed backfires at the end of the short story. Which leads me to my final point. Chesnutt’s uses double irony and hidden plot because there is a discrepancy between what his intended audience is expecting and to happens at the end of the story. “Well, I sh’d jes’ reckon I is better off, suh, dan dem low-down free niggers, suh! Ef anybody ax ’em who dey b’long ter, dey has ter say nobody, er e’se lie erbout it. Anybody ax me who I b’longs ter, I ain’ got no ‘casion ter be shame’ ter tell ’em, no, suh, ‘deed I ain’, suh!” (Chesnutt). As seen Grandison speaks in an ignorant thick dialect and refers to Colonel Owens as master and stresses how loyal he is to him.
By analyzing the significance of each character and Chesnutt’s work one can prove that the stories true meaning is some people aren’t loyal to you, they are loyal to their need of you. Once their needs change so does their loyalty. In conclusion both Grandison and Dick Owens showed unloyalty. They both put their needs before their loyalty to Colonel Owens. The title “The Passing of Grandison” wasn’t simply because Dick Owens took him up north and/or how Grandison fled the plantation with his family but also how Grandison was able to pass as a loyal ignorant slave.