One of the most incredible items we’ve recovered during our research for this production have been writings from what, it appears, was a real conjure woman. While we’re not sure as to the actual identity of this mysterious woman, her writings, astonishingly, seem to be responding to a situation in the American south that closely parallels the fictional setting of Chesnutt’s work.
In the document “Sensibilities,” this conjure woman is speaking of a property owner who, it appears, is disturbed by the “feminine sensibilities” of his apparent wife. She expands on this by saying he has deeper “white man sensibilities” which blind him from understanding the slave stories he’s hearing from the workers on his property.
There is a way in which, I think, we can apply this to John’s character in the audiobook. We have to keep in mind that he’s ignorant of the meaning’s of Julius’ stories and that the reader/listener can perhaps offload their own ignorance onto John, opening them up in reality to understanding the weight of the tales. Given that Chesnutt strove to write “for a purpose, a high, holy purpose” we might be able to find a greater purpose in the writings of this conjure woman–that is, to lift the “white man sensibilities” of our audience by exposing this veil of ignorance of John. This, I think, will help us achieve what Chesnutt described as the “province of literature to open the way” to a greater sphere of acceptance.