Charles Chesnutt, “The Wife of His Youth”

I really like the twist in the story when a very dark-skinned and toothless Liza Jane shows up at Mr. Ryder’s door looking for her long lost love. Interestingly enough, the man whom she describes as her husband from twenty-five years ago earns the reader’s respect and sympathy since the reasons for his disappearance seem very plausible. She helps him run away just to be back and buy her freedom. The whole chain of unfortunate events ruins their plans but Liza Jane, even though weak in her appearance never stops believing in his return. This makes her the character of an incredible virtue. She has remained true to her “colored” roots, and beliefs. On the other hand, Mr. Ryder, even though a man of virtue and respect, shows a lot of prejudice towards the blacks. He speaks perfect English, is well educated, reads British poetry and aspires to marry a young widow named Mrs. Dixon whom he describes as “the palest lady he expected at the ball, and she was of a rather ruddy complexion, and of lively disposition and buxom build.” The word “pale” has a huge impact on Mr. Ryder since his ultimate goal  and the goal of the “Blue Veins” society is to make it very selective and as close to a white society as possible. He indirectly suggests that this could be achieved through mixed marriages.

Mr. Ryder’s words, “With malice towards none, with charity for all,” we must do the best we can for ourselves and those who are to follow us. Self-preservation is the first law of nature” remind me of Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest.” He is basically saying that the “Blue Veins” members should restrict their search for a mate to their equals within the society instead of including people with dark skin and taking a “backward step”.

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Even though he represents the opposite of everything that’s depicted in the character of Liza Jane, the reader still finds the main character appealing because of his loyalty, devotion and a great sense of responsibility.

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One response to “Charles Chesnutt, “The Wife of His Youth”

  1. I agree with you that the narrator is compelling and sympathetic despite the nature of his society. In the end, he seem to follow the path of (coincidentally) a “good man.”

    ANother excellent job!

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