William Dean Howells was sympathetic to African Americans. This is apparent not only in his fiction but in essays focusing on Paul Laurence Dunbar, Booker T. Washington, and Charles W. Chesnutt. All three typed the "sweetness" that Howells was delighted to find among representative members of a still-oppressed race. The Howells-Chesnutt relationship was a cordial one in which the former publicly expressed his a appreciation of the latter's literary talent and thus assisted him in achieving his rise to celebrity; Howells's needs, too, were met, since Chesnutt displayed a freedom from "bitterness" that bode well for black-white relations in the future. The relationship ended abruptly when, with the publication of The Marrow of Tradition (1901), Chesnutt disclosed a vindictive side of his personality that Howells had not seen. Reviewing Marrow as a "bitter, bitter" book, a disillusioned Howells also wrote to Henry B. Fuller: "Good Lord! How such a negro must hate us."

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