The Planter as Cavalier

Much of the plantation myth relied on a sense of nostalgia. Faced with the ever-accelerating wave of change being brought about by technology and industrialization, much of the nation, but especially the South, indulged in a nostalgic revival of Arthurian values. There was, in the nineteenth century South, a regret for what was being lost to modernity --- a world in which honor was paramount, where a person's quality could be read in his bloodline, where not money but breeding and manners determined and demonstrated one's place in society. This nostalgia manifested itself not only in the art and rhetoric of the day, but in the daily lives of the people. The medieval tournament became a feature of Southern life, and the code duello was embraced through much of the region.

In literary representations of life in the south, two of the most significant qualities of the Southern hero were honor and lineage. In art as in life, duels became the method of choice for protecting one's honor and establishing a reputation as a gentleman. The hero of Thomas Nelson Page's Marse Chan is compelled by an insult to his father to duel with Colonel Chamberlain. "Marse Chan" is doubly honorable in that he fights rather than accept a slur aimed at his family and yet spares the life of the offender.