Chesnutt, Charles Waddell. Mandy Oxendine: A Novel. [1897?] Ed. Charles Hackenberry. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994?
Mandy Oxendine is the earliest and, according to Hackenberry, probably the most significant of Chesnutt’s six unpublished novels (DAI 43-01, July 1982, p. 168-A). It is “the story of two fair-skinned lovers of mixed race ancestry who have chosen to live on opposite sides of the color line” (“Introduction,” p. 1). The novel, begun sometime between 1889 and 1894 and probably finished in 1897 (“Introduction”), was set 75 miles from Sampson County, the former home of the two lovers, Mandy Oxendine and Tom Lowrey. The prejudices suffered by people of mixed race, and their lack of opportunity, are major themes in the novel. Mandy Oxendine moves from her home and decides to pass for White. Tom Lowrey also leaves home, to improve his opportunities by getting a college degree and teaching; but he never gives up his love for Mandy. Mandy is courted by a wealthy White man, Robert Utley, who she hopes will marry her. Utley is murdered, and both Mandy and Tom confess to the crime—bringing several situations to a head.
Numerous clues permit interpretation of the two lovers as Lumbee (known then as Croatan). Chesnutt had attended, taught at, and been principal of what became Fayetteville State University, so he undoubtedly encountered Lumbee people. Both Mandy and Tom grew up in Sampson County; Tom remarks that “there are a good many Oxendines” there. Besides the two lovers, other characters have Lumbee or Robeson County surnames (Revels, Brewington, Pate, McMillan, Murchison). There are mentions of the Lumberton Plank Road and “Rosinville.” Mandy sings an old song brought over by “the Scotch exiles who with Flora McDonald had settled the Cape Fear.” Most importantly, Chesnutt provides a lengthy description of North Carolina’s “free colored people” (from whom Tom and Mandy descended) and the inequities they suffered. He explains how the “blood of three races commingled” formed Mandy’s temperament. Her time period and her environment made her feel, “A person has got to be white or black in this worl’, an’ I ain’t goin’ to be black.”