The Goophered Grapevine Summary

Charles W. Chestnutt

The Goophered Grapevine

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The Goophered Grapevine Summary

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Charles W. Chestnut’s story “The Goophered Grapevine” was originally published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 1887. It was the first story by a black author to be published by the literary journal. Chestnut sets the story during or immediately after Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South and thematically deals with the issue of the continued dominance of the privileged white class over blacks.

John, the narrator, is a white grape farmer from Ohio, whose wife, Annie, needs a warmer climate due to health issues. They relocate to the North Carolina town of Patesville where the climate is appropriate for her and the land is conducive for cultivating grapes. They also have a cousin with whom they can stay. John finds a vineyard in disrepair due to the war and owner neglect. It had been owned by a man named McAdoo, but has in recent years been haggled over by his heirs. John is confident that if he were to purchase the land, he could turn it into a successful grape plantation.

Upon visiting the old plantation, John and Annie find an old black man sitting in the yard eating grapes. The man, Julius, is from a nearby plantation. Having been raised in the vineyard John is thinking of purchasing, he tells the couple he is aware of its history. Julius tries to dissuade John from buying it, explaining that it is “goophered,” meaning it is hexed. At this point, John’s narration becomes a frame to the flashback story of the plantation’s history recounted by Julius.

Before the Civil War, plantation owner Mars Dugal’ McAdoo raised valuable scuppernong grapes very successfully. A significant problem for him, however, was that black slaves from all around would sneak in, pick, and consume the crop. Although he was aware of this activity going on, McAdoo was not able to catch the encroachers while they were engaged in the act, so he conceived a plan. Living among a settlement of free blacks, who were also stealing McAdoo’s grapes, was Aun’ Peggy. She was known as a “cunjuh” woman or witch, meaning she had the power to put spells on people, including those bringing fits or death. Mars Dugal’ McAdoo bestowed gifts upon her, making her most willing to fulfill his request. She put a goopher, a type of curse, upon the scuppernong grapevines to prevent the slaves from eating them. She was willing to help the white owner to the detriment of the blacks.

Aun’ Peggy told the blacks that anyone who ate of the grapevines would die within a year, so those who had been doing so refrained. Soon after, a stranger visited and, not knowing the story of the curse, his coachman ate many of the scuppernongs and was killed that evening. This was taken as proof that the goopher was successful. Any lingering doubt was eradicated when a child ate some and died a week later. McAdoo produced and profited from more than one thousand gallons of wine that season. His success cost him only about ten dollars in gifts to the cunjuh. The next summer, after one of his slaves died, McAdoo purchased Henry. The slaves already on the plantation neglected to tell Henry about the curse, and he ate some of the grapes. When he learned of the goopher, he panicked and was taken to see Aun’ Peggy. She gave him a medicine and told him it would fend off the goopher until spring when, with the rising of the sap, he should see her again. On his next visit to her, she instructed him to put some of the sap on his head, which was bald, and that would again keep the goopher away. Henry began to grow hair and seemingly began to become younger and to have more energy than everyone else on the plantation. When in the fall the grape harvest was over, the process seemed to reverse and this became a cycle. Eventually, McAdoo took advantage of this peculiar event and began a seasonal pattern of selling and buying Henry for profit based on his state of health.

A few years passed and a stranger from the north arrived at the plantation. He offered McAdoo advice, telling him he could make even greater profits from the vineyard. Ultimately, the advice proved ill-fated; the vines withered, Henry lost his vigor and his hair and died. When Mars Dugal’ McAdoo was killed at war, his wife moved away and the plantations fell into ruins. Following the flashback story, the narrative returns to the present, and Julius tells Annie the story is true and advises John not to buy the plantation because the goopher might remain. John decides to buy the plantation anyway and returns it to prosperity.