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Chesnutt, Charles Waddell. "The Wife of his Youth".

Summary

The story opens with Mr Ryder planning a ball in honour of Mrs Dixon. Ryder is a respectable middle aged man who intends to propose to the young widow Dixon at the ball. She is also coloured, but whiter than him, and also superior to him in her education.

Ryder is approached by an old, toothless, and very black woman called Liza Jane. The old woman tells Ryder her story. Her husband Sam Taylor was to be sold away from his wife, so he ran away. He was to return for his wife later to buy her freedom. The master however found out about the plot and sold the woman away so that her husband could not find her.

Liza has been on search for her husband for twenty-five years now. Ryder questions Liza and doubts that her husband is still alive and still looking for her, too. The woman however surprises him with her firm belief that it is so. Ryder promises to help her.

The night of the ball comes and all the great men of the town attend. Ryder toasts to the ladies and then relates the story of the old woman. He develops an imaginary situation and asks the audience what such a man should do if he were found by his long forgotten wife. Dixon is the first to answer and then everybody says that such a man should let himself be recognized.

Ryder expects this answer. He brings Liza and announces: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the woman, and I am the man, whose story I have told you. Permit me to introduce to you the wife of my youth."

 

Analysis

- uneducated Liza speaks strong black English dialect, more refined Ryder standard English

- in the characters of Liza and Ryder the story contrasts fidelity and assimilation respectively: Liza remains faithful to her husband but also to her race and origin, while Ryder is for assimilation and, despite his final decision, may be seen as a black "expatriate" character

- Ryder is the leader of the Blue Veins society: on one hand, the society aims to enhance the culture of coloured people, on the other hand, there is rumour that only persons who are white enough to show their blue veins are admitted to the club

Basics

  • Author

    Chesnutt, Charles Waddell. (1858 - 1932).
  • Full Title

    "The Wife of his Youth".
  • First Published

    In: The Wife of his Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1899.
  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

Chesnutt, Charles Waddell. "The Wife of his Youth". (1899). In: The Wife of his Youth and Other Stories. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1968.

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