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“The Wife of His Youth”

“The Wife of His Youth” is a well-known story covering the issue of color line in the society. The legal segregation has separated the lives of both whites and blacks. However, there was also a line through which the public separated light-skinned blacks from the dark-skinned ones. Such distinction serves as a focus of the entire story written by Charles Chestnutt. During 19-20th centuries, the society associated light skin with education and refinement. According to the author’s view, the standards where one group of individuals is considered to be superior only due to the color of their skin are wrong, and black people should acknowledge, accept, and respect each other, thus disavowing colorism or discrimination among persons of the same ethnicity and race based on skin color.

To begin with, “The Wife of His Youth” reflects the reality of what individuals of mixed races have to go through to occupy a decent place in the society. In the short story, Chestnutt focuses on skin color as not a backdrop but a major theme of the narrative. The plot deeply examines the ways how racism and bias affect black people, hence internalizing beliefs expressed by white people regarding the inferiority of blackness. Chesnutt describes the intolerant public with sarcasm by claiming that, “the society consisted of individuals who were more white than black” (1). Racism existed within the race, and the competition among individuals seeking to be at the top was common at Chestnutt’s time. In “The Wife of His Youth”, Mr. Ryder is a respected person in Blue Veins society that was created for the colored individuals with a light black skin. Mr. Ryder faced a difficult situation when he was forced to choose whether to stay at the top by concealing the truth and marry Mrs. Dixon from the Blue Veins society or reveal that he is married to a low-race woman. However, Mr. Ryder chooses to tell that his wife is a former slave. The man struggles about what other people might think about him. He considers that they may most likely express condemnation.

In “The Wife of His Youth”, the author mentions that color matters within the race. Blue Veins society does not focus on the culture of the race or related issues but the light of the skin color. In order to become the members of this society, it is necessary to have a really light skin. Mr. Ryder’s wife Liza could not enter Blue Veins society owing to her black skin. Moreover, her social status is low, as she once worked on the plantation as a slave. The man claims that, “he has no race prejudice, but mixed-blood persons are ground between the nether and upper millstone” (Chesnutt 3). Mr. Ryder also says that the fate of these people is torn between being extinct by blacks and absorbed by whites. In his story, Chesnutt challenges the idea of two races. The narrative serves as an allegory of the changed relationship of freedmen and freeborn as well as black people and representatives of a mixed race in the post-reconstruction era (Green and Hamilton 2). Such varieties are expressed in the language used by the personages, which also reflects different class levels and education.

In his story, Chestnutt offers a rare look at the period when individuals of mixed races suffered the most. Despite being educated, they still could not escape the stigma of their ancestry, discrimination, and bias. Ryder has established the society that could almost pass as white, and he also refused to accept the fact that his wife is a cook from low-level society. Liza Jane barely recognizes that he is the same man whom she once married. Throughout his story, Chestnutt reminds the readers that no one can escape the past, and sometimes, people ignore where they came from. The past serves as a reminder. In “The Wife of His Youth”, the author does not pay particular attention to the relationship between mulattoes and whites. Instead, his work is concerned with the race consciousness among the representatives of mixed races, both from Southern and Northern states. In his narrative, Chesnutt challenges the idea of the two races, and the story also serves as an allegory of the changing relationship between people after the reconstruction (Green and Hamilton 2). The author focuses on the black culture and its relation to the standards of white people, which were never judged in a fair and adequate way. He was one of individuals suffering from discrimination due to being brought up in a white country (Lauter et al. 246). Therefore, Chesnutt’s own destiny is reflected in “The Wife of His Youth” to some extent.

To conclude, the standards of society when some individuals are considered to be superior due to their skin color are wrong, and black people should recognize each other’s needs and concerns, thus disavowing colorism and prejudice among humans of the same background based on their skin color. In “The Wife of His Youth”, Charles Chesnutt represents the struggle of mixed-blood African-Americans in the 19-20th centuries, as they sought to occupy a decent place in the society. Despite their social position, economic achievement, and education, African-Americans remained at the margins of both white and black societies. The sentimental literary work of the post- reconstruction period portrays human beings of mixed blood as tragic figures that desperately attempted to pass for white and enter the white society.
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